Week in the Word: Be the Church — A United and Uniting People

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This is the message I preached on Sunday, July 14th,  at Life’s Journey United Church of Christ in Burlington, NC, the first open and affirming (or LGBT+-welcoming) church in lifes journeyAlamance County, NC.   I hope it blesses you!  If you find yourself in or near Burlington, please join us!   Life’s Journey meets for worship services on Sundays at 10:30 AM, and is located at 2121 Edgewood Avenue, Burlington, 27215.  We also have a sermon-shaping Bible study most Tuesday nights at 6:30 PM in one of the Sunday school classrooms in the church.

Sermon: “Be the Church:”.  “Be the Church:  A United and Uniting People”.

Texts: Isaiah 42:1-9; Acts 15:1-29

Both our Isaiah reading and our Acts reading tell us of scattered and divided peoples becoming one.  In Isaiah, we see the words of Deutero- or Second-Isaiah, an anonymous return from exiledisciple of the original prophet Isaiah who prophesied after his death and after the exile of the Jewish people by Babylon.   They see how their nation was destroyed, their royal palace flattened, and even their holy temple snuffed out. They see so many of its members become exiles and refugees from their homeland.  Speaking from such a point of exile themself, this un-named prophet is inspired through their relationship with God  to see their situation from a different point of view: now they have the opportunity to become friends, allies, and partners with those with whom they are in exile, tearing down the walls between them, so that they can come to understand the truth and light of God, just as the people of Israel and Judah have.  They imagine a time when this time of being scattered refugees will end and all their people who are scattered will be able to be prophet isaiahunited again. This vision includes a home where even those not yet part of God’s covenant will be welcomed into God’s family, so even those who have been their persecutors will be gathered in and even those now scattered to the most distant islands not yet even listed in any map, shall be welcomed home.   This vision probably is a part of what of what Jesus had in mind when, as a rabbi schooled in the words of the Biblical prophets, he said he had other sheep who were not of his fold of the disciples then with him, who must be brought in, and when he prayed of all these scattered ones that they all could be one as he and his Father were one, the very prayer which we in the United Church of Christ look to as our inspiration for our calling to be a united and uniting people.

In Acts, we see the church in its infancy struggling to live out Isaiah and Jesus’ hefty vision of the family of God’s people being a united and uniting people.  We see the messiness and beauty that comes when they try to be ones who tear down barriers of division so that very different people with different perspectives can be welcomed and treating fairly.   In striving to extravagantly welcome all people as the Spirit showed communion of the saints 3them and us we must, the early church had grown and changed.  No longer was it a tiny group of Jews going to temple in Palestine, no different from those around them but in their shared faith in Jesus.  Now the church began for the first time to resemble what archbishop Desmond Tutu once called “the rainbow people of God”.  There are observant Jews who are committed to the way of Jesus.  There are people who have never stepped foot in a synagogue, who have no clue how to keep kosher, and who more closely resemble in dress, speech, and music the people of their own lands, which include places as varied as Asia Minor, Italy, Greece, Egypt, and Ethiopia.   This movement towards extravagant welcome began for these early believers as it had for Second Isaiah, by tragedy and struggle.  The church in rainbow people of god.jpgPalestine went under attack by the powers that be for the ways it was counter-cultural and, in its words and actions, called into question the patterns of oppression in its day.   So Christians scattered, spreading the way of Jesus with them, being the church wherever they went through their actions, welcoming into their communities their neighbors and friends, many of whom looked and spoke and acted differently than them.

When we join these early believers in Acts, this fledgling movement is threatening to come apart at the seams.  Some long-time Christians who can date their faith in Christ to Pentecost itself, are worried about all these new folks joining up and calling themselves Christian. These new believers are people of cultures, races, and backgrounds very different than their own. As they join the faith, they are changing it, shaping it to reflect the needs and backgrounds of  their communities and cultures.   These new Christians and their churches don’t sing, prayer, worship, dress, or act like these original believers who can trace their faith to the days of Jesus.   I can almost hear them sneering and muttering to each other, What is the church becoming? Among these new believers, some still keep some connections to the old time religion of the first Christians. Others are new believers in communities that have never seen Palestine, with no connections to the Jewish culture in which Christianity began.  Some among them are happy to share their faith with these culturally Jewish believers, living and let live, accepting that some need the older more traditional ways of worshipping God; and others begin to feel they are the superior ones.  “We aren’t hung up on their rules, stuck in the past, and are really open to the Spirit”,

In Acts 15, we find representatives of all these different groups of people coming communion of the saintstogether and, with great effort, finding a way to lay their differences aside, find common ground together in their shared faith in Christ, and discover how to work together without having to lay aside the essential truths about who any of them are.  As a more modern voice of faith, the late James Baldwin, has said ““We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”

The decision they come to makes room for the continued welcome of churches and Christians that are reflective of and relevant to new cultures and times who thus barely resemble church as it once was, while also respecting the needs of long-time believers who value time-proven traditions.  The path they forge allows them all to walk arm in arm with other churches and Christians that understand Christ and worship God differently than they do.   It takes work, it takes listening carefully to all sides, it takes not assuming any one person or group has all the answers, it takes being open to the still-communion of the saints 2speaking voice of the Spirit, to get to this point.   To me, ultimately the way the decision is made, by listening to and valuing the many divergent and sometimes disagreeing voices in the church, is a living out of a principle Hindu faith leader and civil rights advocate Mahatma Gandhi once called “the many-sidedness of truth”.  Rather than truth being one sided, like the top of a table, Gandhi suggests that it is many-sided like a diamond.  To truly grasp the full truth of a situation involves looking at each possible facet, from every possible side or angle.   What Gandhi meant is that God speaks most clearly through us listening to the multitude of perspectives as fully as we can and looking for the truth that unites them all.  As Baldwin’s quote suggests, such listening ought never involve compromising on justice and fair treatment for anyone, especially a marginalized or oppressed person,  but it does involve making space for all people to also be treated with such respect, even those you deeply disagree with, so walls can be torn down and reconciliation come.

In this gathering of leaders at Jerusalem, those gathered  do just that. Ultimately they are stronger together through finding a way to make room for their differences, room to be reconciled to each other, and room to move together as one family in faith, expressed in many different ways.

In our own tradition in the United Church of Christ, finding a 150px-United_Church_of_Christ_emblem.svgunity that reconciles us into one family in Christ without erasing our differences is the foundation of who we are as a denomination.   Our denomination was formed when a number of very different denominations with very diverse ways of worshiping and believing chose to lay aside their differences which could divide them in order to  be reconciled with each other. Stepping out in faith, these pioneers in faith chose to live together out of this unity their shared relationship with Christ brought.

Here in the South working to be a united and uniting church meant in the early days being counter-cultural by resisting the pressure for racial segregation by having historically racially divided churches cross racial lines to gather together for worship, training, and mutual support in our denominational gatherings, even when crossing such lines to stand as one brought threat and harassment.

This call to be tear down barriers, to seek reconciliation, and to embrace both what draws us together in common and also the beauty in our differences, without ann atwater and cp elliscompromising the call to do justice, was beautifully pictured in the life of one United Church of Christ lay-woman, Annie Atwater of Durham.  She was an active member of Mt. Calvary United Church of Christ in Durham and her faith led her to speak up against unfair treatment of poor members in her community in general and the inhumane treatment of people of color under segregation.

As is depicted beautifully in the recent film The Best of Enemies, ultimately this fight against segregation forced Annie to have to work side by side alongside the then head of Durham’s Ku Klux Klan, C. P. Ellis.  As you can imagine, this outspoken activist for racial equity and this then leader of a racist hate group initially butt heads throughout the debate about the future of Durham schools.  Eventually, though, since she never gave up on this relationship, her persistent Christian life of relating to Eliis and others with both what the Gospel of John calls truth and grace,  both truth-telling and compassion erodes Ellis’s prejudices, and he concludes she and the families of color she represents deserve fair and equal treatment, being children of God like he is.  He renounces white supremacy and racism, abandoning the Klan, and joining her in her fight for civil rights for all and tearing down of barriers to racial reconciliation.  When many in the white community in Durham abandon C. P. Ellis for embracing reconciliation, the black community of Durham, including members of her United Church of Christ church, gather around him to give him aid and help him find his way.

I have to admit I hear echoes of this story whenever I hear how many of you here at Life’s Journey have, in the midst of some harassment and name-calling, chosen to stand side by side with members of our community of other races than yourself, as have some of you who have stood with the NAACP though you yourself are white, with people of other sexualities as some of you who are straight have by standing beside the LGBT community, and with people of other faiths as many of you have by standing beside groups like Burlington Misjad when they faced religious discrimination. We need to continue this work as a church.

Yet to be people who are united and uniting people we must not only continue in such areas of strength but also face into the fact that our community around us  remains still deeply divided into haves and have-not’s, too often with much of the money and power in the hands of people of one race, one gender, one background.  We must ask how we as a church together can work to tear down these barriers, working both for equal and fair treatment for all and a reconciling of all as one in our community.

We must also face into the painful truth that Dr. Martin Luther King named when he famously said 10 or 11 am Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America; and confess not much has changed since.  We must look around our worship service and ask what we have done or have failed to do in order to make our church a place where people of all backgrounds come and experience reconciliation rather than division, a tearing down of walls rather than a building of them up.  We must face into how much we might be still a segregated space and ask God’s help in learning our part in making our church become more and more  a place where God’s kin-dom comes here on earth as in heaven by embracing reconciliation and diversity rather than what just goes along with the tide of the culture around us that further splinters and divides.

I close with words of Martin Luther King from his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, in which he expresses the heart and vision we need to be committed to being people of reconciliation.  He writes, ““In a real sense all life is inter-related. All … are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…”   May we embrace this call to be ones who tear down walls of division, being people of reconciliation here in our church, and throughout our community & world.  Amen & Amen.

Week in the Word — Be The Church: People of Extravagant Welcome

lifes journeyThis is the message I preached on Sunday, July 7th,  at Life’s Journey United Church of Christ in Burlington, NC, the first open and affirming (or LGBT+-welcoming) church in Alamance County, NC.   I hope it blesses you!  If you find yourself in or near Burlington, please join us!   Life’s Journey meets for worship services on Sundays at 10:30 AM, and is located at 2121 Edgewood Avenue, Burlington, 27215.  We also have a sermon-shaping Bible study most Tuesday nights at 6:30 PM in one of the Sunday school classrooms in the church.

Sermon “Be the Church:”.  “Be the Church: People of Extravagant Welcome”.  Pastor Micah.

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Acts 8:26-40, New Living Translation.

26 As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah.

29 The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.”

30 Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

31 The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him.

32 The passage of Scripture he had been reading was this: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter. And as a lamb is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.  33 He was humiliated and received no justice.  Who can speak of his descendants?   For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or someone else?” 35 So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus.

36 As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?”38 He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.  39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Meanwhile, Philip found himself farther north at the town of Azotus. He preached the Good News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea.

Friends, These are the words of God for all of God’s people.  May our still-speaking God open the eyes of our minds and ears of our hearts, so we might see and know what God has for us in these words of Holy Scripture.  Amen.

Does anything stand out to you in either our Micah or our Acts reading today?

breakbreadIn Take This Bread, Sara Miles tells how her experience of extravagant welcome changed her life.  Growing up, Sara was raised in a home harsh and critical to all things religious, yet she spent her life hungry and searching, a longing she channeled into good things — into her working in kitchens preparing and serving food,  her traveling to Central America organizing the fight for social justice there,  her working as a reporter in war-torn parts of the world, her finding and marrying the woman she loves,  her raising a daughter together with her wife. Yet in all that goodness, her hunger and longing remained, a yearning for something more.  One day after becoming a mother, on a whim, she walked into a church that practiced “open communion,” the practice of saying at the communion Table that whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome there, without question. Sara was welcomed to take of the bread and the cup, even though it was her first time strolling into the church and even though she had a big chip on her shoulder towards religious people.  She was welcomed even though she wasn’t sure what —  if anything  — she believed.  She was welcomed even though she was what some would some folks would call a leftie pink-knick.  She was welcomed even though she was a lesbian.  Though most churches said “you are not welcome here” to people like her, this one said “come, just as you are”.  So she came.  She took the bread.  She drank the cup.   She shared the Lord.  And she kept coming, taking, drinking, sharing.  And it changed her life.

No, she didn’t quit being a writer.  She didn’t quit being a lesbian, or an activist, or a wife, or a mother, or a chef. Rather, at Christ’s table, she discovered that she was made by One who knows her name, One who loved her just as she is.  Sara discovered that if people had a problem with who she was, their real problem was not with her, but with the God who made her.  She discovered how to be all of who she is in a way that reflects God’s love and compassion to the world.  And each time she returned to the table, she found herself welcomed there, just as she was.  Before she knew it, her eyes were opened mother with baby in lead sunsetby her welcome at this table to truly see those around her, including the hungry and hurting in her community.  She began to use what she learned through her years as an activist to organize people in her community to start a feeding ministry where all such hungry and hurting would be welcome, and where no one need walk away hungry or empty handed.  Her one feeding program grew.  As it grew, it inspired another to start, and then another after that, and then still more, creating ripples all through her community.

Such a change in her life, which flowed into such change in her community, all began with that one church being a place where the table was always open to anyone and everyone, a place where there was always room for one more at the family table, a place where whoever you are, wherever you are in life’s Journey, you are welcome.

Today’s reading from Acts tells a similar story of expansive welcome and radical hospitality.  Phillip is drawn by the still-speaking voice of the Spirit out of the comfort of eunuch 3his home and his neighborhood, to a road running out of town, through the desert.  He is drawn there to befriend someone who is not only a stranger to him, but a foreigner to his country.   And though this man from distant Ethiopia is wealthy and in a position of power, this Ethiopian is also a kind of outcast.   Luke tells us this man is returning from Jerusalem, where he had gone to try and worship, headed now back to his home county.   Likely he was returning heavy hurted.

Most likely, instead of being welcomed there, this Ethiopian man discovered there that his money, power, and prestige didn’t count for beans.  Likely, after journeying countless miles to be a part of God’s people in worship at the temple, upon arriving there, this man heard instead your kind of people aren’t welcome here.   After all, folks would have told him, the Bible clearly says in Leviticus 21 and Deuteronomy 23 that eunuchs cannot enter the temple and be welcomed in worship.  You can almost hear them as they tell him, it’s nothing personal against you It’s in the Bible, after all. God says, I believe it, that settles it, right?  You are too different. Your skin is too dark.  You don’t fit into our nice categories of male and female, man or woman.   You, man of Ethiopia. Go back where you came from!”

St-Philip and the eunuchNo doubt, he was heavy hearted and feeling rejected, as Phillip came up to him.  Likely this is why he was reading so intently from  the book of Isaiah in our Bibles.  There are just a few chapters distance between the text in Isaiah 53 the man of Ethiopia was reading aloud when Phillip arrived and the slightly later text of Isaiah 56 that promises, despite the prohibitions in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, ““Don’t let foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will never let me be part of God’s people.’ And don’t let the eunuchs say, ‘I’m a dried-up tree with no children and no future.’ For this is what the Lord says: I will bless those eunuchs … who choose to do what pleases me and commit their lives to me.  I will give them—within the walls of my house— a memorial and a name far greater than sons and daughters could give.  For the name I give them is an everlasting one.  It will never disappear!”   Likely the man from Ethiopia had seen or heard this promise in Isaiah and wondered, when will this hope become true for me?  When will I no longer be on the outside looking in?  When will I finally be welcomed, just as I am, within the walls of God’s house?  You can see why this passage about the suffering servant stopped him in his tracks.  This servant was someone he could relate with: one who was rejected as he has been rejected, one who suffered as he has suffered, but all in order to make room for others  to be welcomed into God’s tent as God’s own family.

eunuchWhen Phillip arrived, the words Phillip shared with him connected directly with this man’s burning questions.  He discovered in Christ one who welcomed him, just as he is, fully as God’s child.  He discovered for himself what Paul later would proclaim to the Galatians: “In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. And when this man asks to be welcomed into Christ by baptism, just as Sara did not encounter a long list of requirements to join Christ at his table, but was told “Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here”, so Philip said the same about the waters of baptism when asked: nothing prevents you.

This story illustrates powerfully that, to truly be the church, we have to be a people where there are no entrance requirements at the door.  Rather, we must say as a church what is written at the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York City, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” When asked, what prevents me from being welcomed through baptism or the Lord’s table? we must learn to say nothing prevents you.

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Yet, as a few of you reminded me this week, such a calling is not just a calling to a welcome in the church but in the wider world, both by moving out of your comfortable bubble and standing in solidarity with people different than you right where they are, and by working to have our communities and our world be places none are excluded, and where every voice matters.  I was reminded of the way we’ve already been living this out as a church first by Mike Lynch, inviting me to join him in standing in solidarity with a new LGBT+ caucus beginning in our community to speak up for fair treatment of LGBT+ people and their families.  What a gift, as a straight man, to be welcomed by our church to go where they are, hear their stories, and join them in calling for a more welcoming world! I was reminded as well by Alice, who reached out to me about her love for how we as a church  have stood side by side, as allies with the local Muslim community, speaking up for their right to be treated fairly, and even helping them find a building for worship.

Friends and family in Christ, we already are striving at Life’s Journey be a welcoming church and to build a more welcoming community.  Let’s continue in this work and grow in it.  Let’s continue to live so whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are always welcome at this table, in this church, in our community, and in God’s world.  Amen and Amen.

 

Week in the Word — Be The Church: One at Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

lifes journeyThis is the message I preached on Sunday, June 16th,  at Life’s Journey United Church of Christ in Burlington, NC, the first open and affirming (or LGBT+-welcoming) church in Alamance County, NC.   I hope it blesses you!  If you find yourself in or near Burlington, please join us!   Life’s Journey meets for worship services on Sundays at 10:30 AM, and is located at 2121 Edgewood Avenue, Burlington, 27215.  We also have a sermon-shaping Bible study most Tuesday nights at 6:30 PM in one of the Sunday school classrooms in the church.

Sermon “Be the Church: Disciples who are One at Baptism and the  Table.”

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Genesis 18:1-8

The Lord appeared again to Abraham near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. 2 He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.

3 “My lord,” he said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while. 4 Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. 5 And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.”

“All right,” they said. “Do as you have said.”

6 So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, “Hurry! Get three large measures of your best flour, knead it into dough, and bake some bread.” 7 Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. 8 When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees.

 

We continue our series, “Be the Church” today, exploring values of a vibrant church taken from the book of Acts..  I will be reading Acts 2:37-47 from the New Living Translation, and invite you to read along in the translation of your choice, or to listen quietly in your seat, imagining yourself as those first hearing these words.

Acts 2:37-47

37 Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away — all who have been called by the Lord our God.” 40 Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”

41 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.

42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity – 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

These are the words of God for all God’s people.  May our still-speaking God open the eyes of our hearts and ears of our minds, that we might see and know what God has for us in these words of Holy Scripture.

Does anything stand out to any of you either from our Genesis or our Acts reading?

Though we are studying Acts, today I’m drawn first to our Genesis reading. In our Genesis reading, God appears to the spiritual ancestor of Jews, Muslims, and Christians trinity russiaalike, our father Abraham.  In our Tuesday sermon shaping group, several of us noted with surprise how God neither appears in power and in glory, nor as a single solitary person, to Abraham. Instead, long before the names Father, Son, and Spirit were used in prayer, God appears as three persons all at once, who seem to be strangers passing by Abraham’s tent in the extreme heat of the day in the Arabian desert.  Knowing anyone traveling under such a sweltering desert sun would need shelter, Abraham is moved with compassion and offers these three hospitality.  Jim Bissett pointed out in our sermon-shaping group the historical context: that in this situation whether or not you offer or receive hospitality would have been a life or death question.  Someone traveling in that extreme desert heat could easily die without an offer of the kind of shade, water, or shelter Abraham offers these seeming strangers.  Abraham and Sarah not only welcome them out of the heat of the sun into the shade of their campsite, they also wash their feet, and give them each food and drink from their own table.  Moved by Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality, God speaks as these three persons who are somehow also one, announcing to these two their promise that, though they are past child-bearing years and have begun to give up any hope of children themselves, God will yet grant Abraham and Sarah a child and, through this son, the whole world would be blessed.

This story was so important to early Christians that one of the earliest pieces of Christian art is based on this story.   (pass out copy of art) In this painting, the Trinity is pictured as these three who came to Abraham, now gathered around a table of welcome.  The artists holy-trinity-icon-461make clear this story is not only about Abraham and Sarah’s welcoming strangers but just as much about how these three persons who are together the One God are the true host, welcoming Abraham and Sarah and offering them gifts beyond words. This painting is meant to show the Trinity as not just hosts to Abraham and Sarah — but also to all who walk this pilgrim path through the circles of our world. As Abraham and Sarah did, this Triune God welcomes all people out of the blazing heat or freezing cold of their days to find rest under the shelter of their tent at a place at the Triune God’s table, where there is always more than enough to eat and drink, and where all are welcomed as one family.

When we celebrate God as Trinity as we do this Sunday, and as we do whenever we sing our Doxology, we are joining these early Christians in celebrating how, at heart, God is not some lonely judge sitting on a distant throne far removed from our lives dispensing heartless rules and cold judgments; and celebrating how our lives, at heart, are neither merely blind chance nor blind obedience to dogmas or rules.  At heart, God is instead a perfect community which all are invited to join, an embrace of compassion extended to all, a dance of lovingkindness that has existed long before anything was ever made and which will continue long after the world as we know it now winds down and passes away, a love that always makes room for more at the table of mercy. It is love, the love shared by the Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit, that birthed us and our world into being; it is that same love as it is extended to you and to me that gives us the strength to embrace all our joys and challenges with hope; and it is to such love we all long to return, for that love is our heart’s true home.

Yet, though this love is the dance at the center of the universe and our lives, it is something with which we each can lose step and fall out of rhythm. Our Acts reading points us to what we can do to get back in touch with this love of the Creator, The Christ, the-trinity-kelly-latimoreand the Spirit.  Struck to the heart by Peter’s preaching at Pentecost, facing the many ways they have fallen out of step with this love which moves lives forward to their deepest fulfillment, people ask what to do to get back to this connection and this rhythm for their lives.  Peter points them toward a change of mind and thinking – which is maybe a better translation of the Greek word metanoia than the word “repentance” in our Bibles, with all it often conveys today – followed by baptism.   This change of mind ushers people into God’s renewal of  their lives, reconnecting them with the love of the Creator, The Christ, and the Holy Spirit.  Peter goes on to say this promise of renewal is not just for those being baptized by Peter that day but for all who come after them, following in their steps, each and every one of them– even all outside these walls, even those the world had given up on and judged too lost, too last, and too least, no exceptions.

As Annette and Jim both pointed out in our sermon shaping group, too often we think of what Peter describes as a one and done deal — wih is thinking, you’ve said a prayer, been baptized, or come to the altar, and that’s it— you are saved! — when instead changing our hearts and minds is an ongoing process, one which we see the church in Acts constantly needing to go through, each time they get it wrong by trying to put up “you are not welcome here” signs.

Those who accept Peter’s invitation continue being transformed again and again through dinner-table-lconnecting with the love of the Trinity which is at the center of their lives.  They do so through taking part in specific actions that help keep them connected with , grounded in, and growing in God’s all-inclusive love: they listen to the apostles’ teaching, they embrace fellowship or solidarity with each other despite differences, they share meals and resources together including the Lord’s supper, and they pray together.  As a few in our Tuesday night group pointed out, the rest of Acts make it clear that, like most of us, even as he preaches these words,  Peter himself  even doesn’t completely get them. Throughout Acts, Peter again and again has to return to these sources of connection and renewal to begin again whenever he loses sight of God’s love for all.

These activities that Luke highlights are what theologians call means of grace – a 50 cent phrase for practices that help us remind ourselves who we are and whose we are, and help us find our place again back in that dance of creation, that movement of love, that embrace of kindness, that is our own true home.   If even Peter and the apostles need to reconnect with this flow of love, so must we.   Just like these first believers did, we need to consider what practical acts we can put in place in our individual lives  and our lives together to slow down our busy lives, quiet the noise around and within us, to return home into the rhythm and dance of the love of the Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit.

When we are baptised or confirmed — which I remember some of you recently saw happen to your grandchildren! — we remind ourselves how God said over Jesus at his Baptism-of-Christ (1)own baptism “this is my child whom I love, in whom I am well pleased”, while the Spirit came over Jesus like a mother dove enfolding her chicks under her wings.  We are trusting the promise that God the Trinity enfolds us too in this same embrace of love — each and every one of us — announcing through Christ we too are God’s own children whom  God loves, in whom God is well pleased.

When we pray and listen to Scripture, which is where we find the apostle’s teaching today,  together, we quiet the noise of our world and our worries.  We remind ourselves who we are from God’s perspective.  As Henri Nouwen once wrote, “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 take the Lord’s supper together, we remind ourselves at that table that we are not intended to be alone.  We are made to bear the image of the God we know as Trinity, desmond-tutua God who is not some lonely hermit in the sky but a community of love, open to all.  At Christ’s table we are reminded we can only discover who we are as bearers of that image when we stand together in friendship and in solitary with others, especially those very different from us. As  Desmond Tutu, archbishop of South Africa during the end of apartheid, reminds us, “… the essence of being human” is “that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation.”

As a number of people pointed out in our sermon shaping group, as beautiful as such a vision of openness and community is, it is also messy.  Being open to others is not always easy.  Standing in solidarity with others, sharing our lives, our resources, our finances, with them, is both risky and sometimes costly.  Like Jesus, you and I can be hurt, can be forsaken, when we go down that route.  I bet if I asked around this room, many of you would have stories aplenty to share about just this painful truth.

What’s more, unlike Jesus and the Trinity, you and I will fall short and make mistakes — we will fight, we will argue, and we will have conflict in our attempts to be this kind of forgive 2community. You can take that to the bank!  God’s Table of mercy reminds us there is always forgiveness from God bigger than our failings.   None of us can fall too far or do too much to return home to love of the Trinity. God’s love and mercy allows each and every one of us to begin again. No matter what.  That is good news!

Yet these ever open arms of welcome by the Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit are not only good news but also a challenge.  For, to embody this love together, to move in step with it, we also have to make space for all, even for others who have failed us, even those who have us caused us harm and betrayed us, being ready to begin again with them too, welcoming them back to us as God in Christ has welcomed us back again and again.   No wonder we need to be connected with the Triune God’s love, mercy,  and transforming grace!

Ultimately, slowing down from the busyness of our lives like this to connect or re-connect to God and each other through these means of grace opens us up more fully to life itself.   Our challenge, as we explore how to “be the church” together, is to explore how we can do this together, how we can discover ourselves as one at baptism and table, as one with God and each other, and one with all God’s creation and all people, through these means of grace.   May we embrace this love, this welcome, this full and fulfilling life together today and all our days.  Amen and Amen.

 

Daily Devotional: The Thin Places of the Heart

revelation throne room 3Isaiah 57:15 speaks so to my heart this morning. The Lord tells Isaiah and through Isaiah each of us that God both dwells in the high and holy places of this world and also, most especially, in the humble and open heart.   Probably Isaiah had in mind the courts of the temple, resplendent with wealth and glory, where worshippers will gather from miles away by the thousands.   Isaiah first felt God’s presence in the vision of God as king high and lifted up, surrounding by the shining host of heaven, in just such a place.

I think we all have holy places, what the Celtics called “thin spaces”, where we feel particularly close to God. It may be a temple like Isaiah, a church where we go where we are open to an awareness with God. I’d never thought I had such a feeling of thin spaces in church buildings but instead felt more of a nearness to God in nature until calvarymethodist_032811I returned with my wife to a church we worshipped at during a particular trying transition in my life, Calvary Methodist in Durham. It is a quaint but beautiful little church that when we worshipped at had a special outreach to gay and lesbian couples, where old wise saints of decades wrapped their arms around gay youth in loving embrace.   I worshipped there at a time I had felt called into a new ministry of such welcome only to have it fall apart, seemingly unfinished, at great personal cost. That church was a place of healing for me, where Kat and I could renew our relationship to each other, where I could lick my wounds and heal my soul, and also where I could see the vision of church as a community where all are welcome was not a pipe dream but could be a reality, for though not perfect Calvary was doing its best to be just that.   When we re-visited that church, I felt the Spirit like the quiet cool pitter patter of rain breaking out on a hot summer day all about me. I felt my heart open up and knew I was in a thin space for me, a place my heart opened to God.

The Blue Ridge ParkwayI find this too when I go to the hills and mountains of Appalachia. There is something to sitting overlooking rolling hills in every direction, seeing yourself astride on rocks which share space with clouds, which makes you realize how large life is, and how tiny. Whenever I get to go to the mountains as I did last October and will again this for our church’s retreat at Blowing Rock Assembly grounds, I find myself opening to God in all of my senses, as if they are made alive by some spiritual electricity in the air.

These thin spaces are not any more holy than anywhere else, for we know a God who lives in, through, with, and under all things. This God is always nearer than the air that we breathe, closer than the sunshine on our shoulders.   But we are not always open to this. These thin spaces are places where we are able to stop, to pause, to interrupt our routines because of how different the places are and truly see. We see what is always true, but which is made shockingly evident by the way the location opens us up to the ever-present Truth we know as the living Christ.

It is easy to think God is only there, with us, in holy places. Yet Isaiah says, no, God most especially dwells always, rumi quote 2ever, in the heart of one open, humble, pliant to God.   This saying reminds me of a saying Sufi mystic and prophet Rumi. He said a challenging and sometimes misunderstood statement – forget the mosques and temples, he said, for God does not dwell there. If God does not dwell already in your own heart, you will not find God in those temples; but if God does dwell in your heart, you will find God wherever you look.   As most prophets, Rumi did not mean literally temples or mosques do not matter, but rather what counts is an open heart. For those open to God in each moment, they can find God within their life in every rumi quoteexperience. For me, this is the goal of the spiritual life: to open my awareness to that of God in each moment, in each place, in each person.

I’d love to hear from you how you find God in each moment, in each person, in your life.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

A Week in the Word: Tear Down This Wall

first christian uccThis week I am sharing for the “Week in the Word” a message I gave Sunday July 19th at First Christian United Church of Christ in Burlington, NC.  First Christian is a beautiful congregation with some very loving souls.  Apparently while he was attending UNC Andy Griffith worked there with the youth and the music programs.  I was blessed to meet one of his former students among the many genuine people at worship.

Here is an audio recording of the message for those who prefer that:

I hope the words of my message at First Christian UCC this Sunday inspire and challenge you.

Your progressive redneck preacher

Micah

kat and mich

Ephesians 2:11-22

11So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” —a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

berlin-1“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”.  So spoke then-American president Ronald Reagan as he stood before the Berlin wall, a barrier of concrete and wire separating not just East and West Germany but symbolically dividing the world between two ideologies locked in a Cold War

The author of those words of course was not the President – it almost never is – but instead one of his speech writers.  This writer of the conversation that inspired him to write these words.

After having had German officials asking him not to reference the wall, so that the people could become used to it, he asked friends of his in then-divided Berlin, “Is it true? Have you gotten used to the wall?”

His friends glanced at each other uneasily. Then one man raised an arm and pointed. “My sister lives twenty miles in that direction,” he said. “I haven’t seen her in more than two decades. Do you think I can get used to that?” Another man spoke. Each morning on his way to work, he explained, he walked past a guard tower. Each morning, a soldier gazed down at him through binoculars. “That soldier and I speak the same language. We share the same history. But one of us is a zookeeper and the other is an animal, and I am never certain which is which.”

berlin09-1That call “tear down this wall!” calling for the dividing wall separating East and West to come down became prophetic.  I still remember sitting spell-bound in a class-room with other kids my age watching as our teacher wheeled in a TV so we could see the many hands taking that wall down brick by brick.  I didn’t fully understand what I was seeing then but I do now– one new people united out of the two. The end of a decades-long Cold War.

Our Scripture reading suggests to us that speech writers’ message became prophetic not so much due to the genius of the speech writer but more because of how it reflected the words of the original peacemaker, Jesus.   Christ is the original one who came preaching to those who are far off and those who are near, proclaiming the walls of division must certainly fall.  In every division we build up to keep others out, to push away those who are different, Christ joins us standing in our midst saying “tear down that wall”.

We still live in a world too divided by walls of fear and misunderstanding.

Just last month, our nation was rocked by witnessing the outcome of building such walls as the news mother_emanual_10was filled with footage of a historically black church in Charleston being shot up by a young white man whose heart was full of hate.  Before that, we saw footage again and again of young people assaulted because of the color of their skin, from Ferguson, Missouri to New York, to within walking distance of the home I once lived in on the Bladen-Robeson County line of North Carolina.

Yet we don’t just build walls that separate us by skin color in this country, do we?   Just a little after the new year, the town I live in was shaken by the death of three young people who devoted themselves to serving the least of these in their community through public service.  These three were killed in cold blood because someone feared their Muslim faith, even though it was that faith which inspired their selfless service.  The gun-shots which killed them were one man’s way to erect a wall to keep people like them out.   Even when our recent Supreme Court ruling tore down walls of division by opening up more equal rights for LGBT people, how shockingly quickly did we see some in our communities began to try to raise walls again with the same worn rhetoric of hate and politics of exclusion!

Even in our own families, painful walls of division can raise their ugly head.  Working as a hospice chaplain, one of the most heart-wrenching things I see is how far too often families come into the chaplain 1hospice torn asunder.  They have not talked to each other for years over events now long forgotten and are scrambling to set things right with the one of them now passing.  Often as a chaplain I am able to help them bridge across this divide, but far more often than I’d wish it is too little, too late.  Illness strikes without giving time to set things right on this side of the veil.

It can look as if division, hatred, violence, are the final word in our world.  In the face of such heartache, Christ appears saying “tear down those walls!’

Multicultural Jesus 1Even in the midst of so much heartache, peace is possible.  In fact Ephesians tells us Christ himself is already our peace, already making now into one new humanity such torn asunder groups by knocking down the walls that divide on the cross.  From God’s side, all that is needed for peace, whether with God or with each other, is already accomplished.  Christ says “tear down these walls” inviting us to be a part of his work.

The starting place in answering “tear down these walls” is realizing that God has already torn down every wall separating you and me from God.   You may have heard over the years that those like you are too different, have no place in God’s family.  Like the Ephesians once did you may feel like a stranger and outsider, exiled from God’s love.

troy perryA man named Troy felt like this.  He felt like an exile, cut off from Christ.  Disowned by his family for who he was, kicked out by the church, Troy decided God must have rejected him too.  Full of despair, he took razors and tried to slit his own wrists. All went black.  When we woke he was on a hospital bed and shocked to be alive beyond all hope.  He opened his eyes with these words echoing in his heart:  “I made you. I love you.  I’ve never rejected you.  Show others the same”.  This experience both saved his life and launched his ministry.  Knowing God loved him despite all who said otherwise, the Rev. Troy Perry became one of the first openly gay ministers in the United States in a day and age when you could be thrown in jail for being gay.  His ministry helped birth the gay-affirming Christian movement which we see at work in our Open & Affirming churches in UCC.  Not only has it helped many LGBT people find faith, but helped inspire the movement for LGBT civil rights behind the recent Supreme Court decision.

What a difference Troy knowing Christ said “tear down this wall made!  What Troy learned in that experience is true for us.  God says to each of us – “I made you.  I love you.  I’ve never rejected you.  Show others the same”.

Answering Christ’s call begins with believing this to be true for you.  Yet this last phrase – “Showing others the same” is part and parcel of the second way we live out this text.

We must learn to live out this grace we are given by being ones who says “yes” to Christ’s call “tear down this wall”.  After the Charleston shooting, a friend from one of our historically black UCC churches put it well.  “You know, folks are scared,” she said.  “After Charleston, when we see some young white man walk into the church, people are going to be on alert.  Instead of opening their arms in welcome people’s first thought will be ‘What is he doing here?  Is he up to no good?  Are we safe?’  And what’s sad is that isn’t what we need right now.  That’s what people like that shooter wanted.  What we need is to all stand together”.  She hit the nail on the head of what tearing down that wall is about, didn’t she?  It is so easy to huddle in fear only with those like us – white folks with white folks, people of color with people of color; straight folks with straight folks, gay folks with gay folks, … you name it … rather than to reach out across the aisle in love.

martin luther kingThe late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King put it well “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Learning to practice this is not easy, but it is the only way to God’s future for us.

“Tearing down that wall” might mean many things.

In our communities it might mean looking again at how we do education, policing, and other community practices.  How is racial bias coloring what we are doing?  How can we change that?

As churches, “tearing down that wall” can mean beginning to own up to our part in creating division.  Dr. King used to say Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. Not much has changed in America these long decades.  We must ask: Are there things as a church we’ve done which helped create divisions over race, over sexuality, over class?  Are there ways we can be more inclusive in our welcome, can partner more across the divides that exist?

“Tearing down that wall” might mean personally looking to ways you might be treating others in ways that push out those you feel are “different”.  This might mean reaching out to build relationships and hear the stories of those who you are avoiding.

“Tearing down that wall” might mean, too, simply being willing to not give up on that person in your life you are tempted to throw in the towel regarding. It might involve being willing to reach out one more time to seek to make amends or to seek to extend grace.  It might mean being willing to say you’re sorry, or to not give up when that one you need to hear “I’m sorry from” aren’t yet willing to.

desmond-tutuAt the heart of the outlook we need to live out is what Desmond Tutu described when he wrote in No Future without Forgiveness that the reconciling lifestyle says “my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.  We belong in a bundle of life… A person I a person through other persons.  It is not ‘I think therefore I am’ [but] rather I am … because I belong.  I participate.  I share.”

May we learn to extend this mercy, this grace, this belonging to all people.  May we learn to live out the lives of reconciliation Christ calls us to today, and always.  Amen.

A Southerner To Remember This LGBT Pride: Rabbi Ben Zion Jernigan

During our time of remember LGBT heroes during LGBT Pride month, I can’t overlook a dear friend if mine who just passed, a hero in the fight for GLBT rights in my home town of Fayettevile  and the surrounding Ft. Bragg, North Carolina area.  Several of us who had joined in the fight for GLBT rights in the area joined to remember him at a memorial service a short time ago.

I feel he is a southerner worth remembering, whose life touched so many, so I am sharing the words I gave at his memorial.  I hope they inspire you and help you get a sense of this great man’s life.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

redneckpreacher

It is hard to sum up in a few words the life of someone who has touched you so deeply. I have to admit I tried several times and the words would not come.

I first met Rabbi Jernigan at a gathering at the Unitarian-Universalist church related to the movement to try and prevent an amendment banning same-gender couples from marrying from being added to the NC state constitution. We struck up a friendship right away. He was full of passionate opinions, full of colorful humor, and incredibly open about who he was. To be honest, at first with his many piercings, tattoos, and colorful stories I did not realize he was a rabbi.
Rabbi and the RevBut rabbi he was. I remember standing with him together, both dressed in the symbols of our faith, myself as a Christian pastor and himself as a Jewish rabbi, speaking together at a gathering organized by the Alliance of Fayetteville and Equality NC, speaking up against the move to discriminate against GLBT people done then by the state legislature.

He spoke of his own faith that day. He talked about the Jewish principle of tikkunn olam, which calls people of faith and of good will to join in the work of “setting the world right”. He spoke of that call of his faith calling him to work hard to help repair those things that are broken and off-kilter, including the way here in North Carolina so many face persecution for who they are. And this is what Rabbi Jernigan consistently did.

I learned so much from his friendship. First of all, he was like family to all who came to know him. He would fill your heart with laughter. He could be fierce in defending those who mattered to him, yet tender in friendship to those close. I still remember the laughing way he would reach out to pet Kat’s service dog Isaiah, or the way he spoke with fatherly kindness to the exchange student who stayed with us one year.

892225_154405904721387_1188869930_o
Yet his example for justice stands out. While his own faith was deep and strong, rabbi Jernigan did not let barriers of culture or religion stand in the way of reaching out. From his example I learned what it means to see all as one people, regardless of culture or faith. He would show up alongside Christians speaking up for GLBT rights, joining arm in arm; among atheists and Wiccans; among anyone on the side of justice. He would speak up for their rights alongside his own. We were all one family to Rabbi Jernigan.
I still remember him saying at one point how much it bothered him that people thought they were being friends to Jews by mistreating Muslims. I have to believe if the shooting of three young Muslim students that occurred where I live had happened in his community, Rabbi Jernigan would have joined the many who stood alongside their families saying their lives matter, and that we are one regardless of our creed or color of skin.

And Rabbi Jernigan was never afraid to speak his mind and to be himself. I remember at one point him telling me, “they’ve been trying to keep me quiet my whole life. My people we tried quiet. Then they gathered us up – Jews and gay people – and put us in camps.” He then showed me a tattoo with the number a relative who was gassed by the NAZIs had. “I will never be silent again.”

I think those words still speak not just to me but to all of us today. Rabbi Jernigan would challenge us – don’t let anyone silence you or make you feel you need to be someone other than who you are. Don’t let anyone tell you to not fight for your rights. Be true to yourself. He would say that the world has had too much of good people being silence.
I think he would remind us that there is still a lot to repair in our world. We won marriage equality but already our state is trying to put loopholes in place to silence those who want equal rights and to make it so in not all areas will counties honor that law. They are trying to build walls to keep gay people out again. I think Rabbi Jernigan would tell us that though he can’t be present to keep this fight alive physically, we can and, if we go remembering him, he is there in spirit continuing the fight.

hATE NO FAMILY VALUE I think he’d remind us to realize we are all family, and to not let attacks on others who are different cause us to avoid being there for each other. I think he’d tell us to treat each other like family.
He’d remind us of youth gay youth, and youth who like these three Muslim youth in my town, who need someone to be the parent, brother, friend, aunt, uncle, that their own won’t be. Who need people to believe in them and say their lives matter.

Then I think he’d tell us a colorful story, or an off-the-wall joke. I think his living life to the fullest, being as fully who he is as he can be, was our good friend’s way of living out the traditional Jewish blessing of L’Chaim. To Life!
Let’s all honor that L’Chaim blessing. And live our lives so we can fully say “To life!”

Daily Devotional: Seeing the World Through Others’ Eyes

desertPsalm 102

These are words of utter desolation – whose body is turning to skin and bones, whose life is wasting away like smoke fading in the cool of the morning soon to be no more. They feel desolate and alone, like some lone animal baking in the heat of the desert far from any water.

As I read these words, I notice I am tempted to take the metaphorically, to assume the one praying is simply using hyperbole to express such soul pain.   Noticing my preference, I am convicted. Convicted of my own unwillingness to see the world through the eyes of those for whom much of this prayer could easily be literal. It is so easy sipping my coffee on my porch in a southern college town, well fed and hearing the call of the morning birds in the trees, to forget there are those right in this moment who are wasting away with no food and no clean water   It is easy to forget those facing famine and disease, wasting from curable diseases due to lack of access to medical care. It is easy for me to want these words not to reflect the costs of exile or tyranny, of war ravaging the land and the people, of disease and loss. It is easy to not want in my morning meditations to reflect on the reality that others are not as comfortable as me, living in lands ravaged by pollution to serve the comforts of we first world middle class folk.

This is a part of the miracle of Scripture.   When we meditate on it in an open way, we open ourselves up to the experiences of other people of God throughout time and space.   It is like a Tardis we enter into, which every Doctor Who fan knows, ushers you into other times and places, because its words reflect the experiences of God by people in all kinds of situations.

Though I don’t know if these words are figurative in their description of wasting away or literal, I do know that was the literal experience of many of God’s people in Bible times during famine, war, exile, or tyranny. The book of Lamentations describes famine so fierce during the time of the siege of Jerusalem that otherwise kind-hearted people were tempted toward cannibalism of their own children the pain of hunger and thirst was so bad.

So Scripture invites me to see the world through these other eyes, to see my problems in comparison to these great challenges. And the Holy Spirit who unites all people of faith and good will in what Christians call the great communion of the saints invites me to realize that such sore trial is being faced now in this moment by other people of faith and good will just like me. Right now there are those who are my brothers and sisters wasting away due to not enough food or clean water from famine, from pollution, from tyranny, from the results of war. And they are a part of me, I of them, if we form one mystical body in Christ.

This awareness rising in me does not tell me specifically what to do, but it does open my eyes to the world in a new way.

As the psalm continues, the poet speaks for God promising God would remember and act upon the prayers of these people. This is, I think, a promise to all crying out.   Yet it is a challenge for folks like me who are comfortable and, without the Spirit’s prodding of our hearts, un-noticing. For as Rev. Hugh Hollowell of Love Wins Ministries, Raleigh, writes, ““How could God allow such a thing? I no longer ask that, because I believe God has a plan … God’s plan is us. Those of us who live in the US live in a nation that throws away 40% of all the food we purchase, yet on the remaining 60% of the food, one in three of us manages to become obese. So let’s not say there is not enough food. Despite the abundance of food, some 17 million children in our own country go to bed hungry at night. Know why? Because none of those children know you. Because if you knew that Darius, who is 7 and lives at 1410 Elm Avenue, Apt #4, was hungry, you would get that kid some food. But you don’t know Darius- so he goes hungry.”

The call I sense this morning is to become more aware not just of the problems this psalm points to, but of the people facing them. I feel a call to raise my awareness and sense of connection to them, as well as to begin to ask “How can I be a part of God through me and others answering their prayers?”

In what have you discovered this call? In what ways are you answering it?