Peace Prayer

This is the prayer I offered at the Irvington Peace Rally on September 7, 2014.

Let us Pray:

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,

We are gathered together here in this place
heavy of heart.
Hearts drowning in grief as the river of death
rages through out city;
Hearts drowning in the tears of
fathers & mothers, sister & brothers -
lives torn apart because of life
too soon gone;
Hearts drowning in anger at those
who so carelessly kill.

Grasping for air, O God,
we cry to you!

We cry here in this place
turning to you.
Seeking that your river of life
wash over the rapids of death and destruction.
For you are the author of life
& the give of breath!

But we, also, come seeking forgiveness.

Forgiveness for the church – your church -
who has spent too long sitting
at the rivers edge -
to afraid to step in and turn the tide.
Forgiveness for neglecting to love
our neighbors as ourselves.
For letting their problems remain theirs
& not seeing their problems as ours.
Forgiveness for turning away from life
& embracing hatred of enemy,
for refusing confession,
for running from reconciliation,
from being afraid.

We come to you confessing our brokenness
& need of repair.

We come knowing that you take the broken heart
& mend it in to a new and stronger thing.

We come in faith.

As we seek peace in our city,
we ask for your guidance,
your direction,
your spirit.

We seek your peace in our city,
& we come in faith, knowing
you are the one who brings streams of shalom.

Just as you brought peace from
the bonds of Pharaoh’s chains;
Just as you brought peace to a
starving Ruth & Naomi;
Just as you brought peace
back from Babylon;
Just as you brought peace into the word,
born in a barn -

We know you will bring your peace.
& your shalom will be known
when your people step
out of the raging river of fear
towards the living waters;
when your people
come together
not as black & white,
Hispanic & Asian,
LGBT & Straight,
but

Your peace will come when we all band together
bound together,
in our mutual web of destiny.

The destiny of a Beloved Community.

A community that stands not
at the rivers edge,
but in the raging rapids reaching out and saving life.
A community that stakes one broken and left for dead
and cares for her.
That mourns with those who mourn.
Praying that your healing & comfort
rest on the grieving – whose joy and hope seem ever erased.
To be a community that sees everyone
as bearing your divine image -
even the perpetrators of violence;
for your mercy & grace are for all people.
All are redeemable.
All are yours.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,

We are gathered here in this place
with hearts ready to be healed.
In a city that needs healed.

Give us the power to be bearers of your light;
of your transforming;
redeeming;
reconciling;
never ending peace.

Wash us in the river of life -
was your city in the river of life -
Made new to make new.

And the people of God who love God say – Amen & Amen


Feast Of Fools

Click here for an audio link.

1 Corinthians 1:18-24
14 September, 2014
Emerson Avenue Baptist Church

Feast of Fools

Christ was a fool.
We are fools.
Thanks be to God.

****

What? Is that not enough? I suppose you think I should talk a little longer. Break it down a little more?

Well, today is the day in the year that we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Cross. In a story worthy of Indiana Jones, legend tells that in her quest to discover as much as she could to prove the existence of Jesus, Constantine’s mother, St. Helena came to the site that was traditionally said to be the place of the Skull, golgotha. Residing at this place was a temple, erected by the Emperor Hadrian, there was a temple to the goddess Venus. The story goes that in her quest, Helena had the temple razed, destroyed and below the foundations of the temple she discovered the three crosses. And at that site she had built the basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, this this was also the site of the tomb of Jesus. As the brick were laid, almost immediately pilgrims came to venerate the holy cross. To come to the holy relic and remember and give thanks for the gift of the cross.

On September 14, 326 – the site of the holy cross was consecrated and so began the fest of the Holy Cross.

For centuries there has been a fascination with the cross. For centuries there have been arguments as to whether it should be depicted with Christ upon it of removed. For centuries this symbol has been the domain of fools.

****

I mean, think about it, we claim as our chief symbol a device that was used to commit capital punishment. It would be like the United States electing to make the electric chair its national symbol.

The cross was a device used by the Romans to inflict the most brutal form of punishment upon political enemies. Being beheaded devoured by wild beasts would have been welcome relief to a prisoner being crucified.

Death on the cross was a slow and painful death. One suffocated to death by being slowly strangled by ones own weight. There was not only the pain of being nailed to the cross, but the mental anguish of hanging there naked knowing that there was nothing one could do to save oneself.

The cross was used as an instrument of terror by the Romans to keep their precious peace. Crucifixions did happen behind garrison walls only witnessed by those invited guests. No, they were public lynchings where some would gather and picnic to witness the spectacle. Bets would be placed on how long death would take. But as some reveled others were repelled. The purpose of public execution was to teach a lesson to anyone who might consider rising up against Rome.

The historian Josepheus tells of a response to rebellion that led to 2,000 people being crucified, lined up like street lights along the road. Peace was kept by the threat of terror.

Not only was it used as a device of death for Rome, it was seen as a place that marked God’s curse by the Hebrew People. In the Torah, it is said that one who is killed on a tree is cursed. But the curse goes further saying that if one is killed on a tree they must be buried before sunset or the very land will be cursed. The Romans would leave the dead bodied to feed the vultures, and the bodies would not be buried. Death on a cross was a double curse.

And it is this which we venerate.

It is this thing of curse that that we lift high. It is this tree upon which Christ was crucified. It is foolish.

We are fools. Christ is a fool.

*****

It makes no sense at all for us to hold up this instrument of death. It is a scandal for those who want to see God in signs and miracles, and it is foolishness for those who are seeking to know all the answers. It makes no sense at all for us to lift high the cross.

There is enough death around us, why be reminded of it.

Why be reminded of death when daily the news speaks of blood shed in our streets?

Why be reminded of death when the dogs of war are howling the blood soaked strains?

Why be reminded of death when children and adults are trapped at the border, seeking shelter from the shadow of death?

Why be reminded of death when daily we try to hang on to life the best we can?

It is foolishness.

Why not just say that we know we are saved and we will get our golden crowns in the great by and by? Why not just say let the world go to pot, but give me Jesus? Why not put on blinders and say that I am not worried about what what will happen when I die? Why not?

All of this cross talk is foolishness.

It is especially hard for us as citizens of the United States. We are a people who celebrate the individual. We lift up the ones who succeed, who show us the American dream revealed. We celebrate hard work and individuality. We praise those who climb up the ladder of success. It is in our DNA.

And in the American Church this is the same story. The story of the church in the Untied States has been the story of individual salvation. That when one turns to Jesus, nothing else matters. That once saved, glory is mine. Oh, that will be glory for me.

The prosperity Gospel has take root here because it echoes our ethic of if I do it myself, God will bless me. The image of God gets covered by the Idol of self.

The American Church has forgotten the cross and begun to worship at the altar of the individual. Because the cross is ugly. It doesn’t fit into the the American ethos. It is foolish and doesn’t make any sense.

All of this cross talk is foolishness.

It is foolish because we are looking at it from the point of view of rational and sophisticated people. We want there to be logic behind everything.

But Christ was a fool. The message of the cross is foolishness.

We think of fools as simple folks who allow themselves to be duped by the world. But in actuality, a fool was a subvesive. A radical. A truth teller who used prophetic imagination to speak truth to power. Christ was a fool.

From the moment of his incarnation, Christ was a fool. His very presence sent tremors of terror through the titans of power, so much so that his death was desired.

He was the fool sitting on the temple steps as a boy challenging the conventional wisdom of those who the world thought were wise.

He was the fool who walked into the wilderness seeking temptation after being anointed God’s beloved.

He was the fool who stood in the synagogue and dared say he was God’s anointed one to bring healing to the sick, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed.

He was the fool who told his disciples not to respond with violence, but stand strong and turn the other cheek. To walk the extra mile. To stand naked. To be fools against he conventional wisdom of the world.

He was the fool when gathered the wiggling and questioning children into himself.

He was the fool when he touched the lepers. He was the fool when he sat with the sinners. When he loved the adulterer, the tax collector, the gentile.

Jesus Christ was a fool when he, like the court jester, would poke at and needle the pharisees, trying to get them to see the foolishness of the Reign of God.

He was a fool. He was a fool when he was in the governors court and stood in silent protest. He was the fool when he was dressed and mocked in fake royal garments and had a sign posted above his head. He was a fool when he let himself be crucified, because what kind of king would allow that.

Christ was a fool. The message of the cross is foolishness.

Jesus died on the cross, so that we could become fools.

On the cross of foolishness we see something other don’t see. We see a foolish God who came and lived and walked among God’s people. We see a savior. We are fools.

We are fools because when we see the blood in our streets we see Christ crucified.

We are fools because when we hear the dogs of war braying the song, we hear Christ crying, Father forgive them for they know not what they do.

We are fools because when we see the innocent killed, and the guilty prosecuted we see Christ crucified. We are able to use our imaginations and see the cross of Christ in our midst. The fool Christ continually crucified for those who are being saved.

In the foolishness of the cross, there hangs the death of the world. On the cross hangs the strange fruit of human arrogance and sin; of our brokenness and blindness. On the cross hangs a foolish God who gave all of God’s self. For us.

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the wisdom of God!

The foolishness of the Cross is the Wisdom of God!

The wisdom of God takes a symbol of death and terror and transforms it into a tree of life and and stake of solidarity. The wisdom of God takes that which the world calls foolish and turns it on its head.

The wisdom of God take the cross and on its wooden beams states in unequivocal terms you are not alone. You are not alone in your pain and your suffering. You are not alone in your questions and your doubt. You are not alone when you are afraid or when you are in grief. You are not alone because I am with you.

The wisdom of God is wisdom that empties itself so fully that God is visible in all of our suffering. The wisdom of God is wisdom that takes humanity not just as a collection of individuals, but rather a people of God.

The wisdom of God takes a broken and dysfunctional church and uses it despite itself.

The wisdom of God is a wisdom that sees the foolishness of an instrument of death and terror and says – that ain’t all there is. That isn’t what all of this is about. Come on and bring death and terror, but in my foolishness – I will mold it and make it life and hope. I will take the cross, the worst you have to offer – and turn it into the best I can offer. I will take all of your your hate, your death, your isms and turn them into foolishness because I AM.

The wisdom of God says that the wisdom of the world dies on a cross, but my wisdom is foolishness and Death isn’t the final answer. God says, my wisdom is foolishness because it doesn’t make sense when one can only see death. God says, my wisdom is foolishness because I came and died in order to defeat the wisdom of death.

This is the feast of the Holy Cross. This is the Feast of Fools.

Christ is a fool. We are fools.

Thanks be to God.


Sermon for September 7, 2014

Never Gonna Give You Up
Ezekiel 33:7-11

Imagine with me being in a foreign place. A place where you have been brought against your will. You have seen your home ransacked. Your city devoured. You were there as the invaders infected everything you held dear.

You, along with the others your tribe have been dragged nearly 1,600 miles through desert. Bound captive you are walking through the scorching heat of the Levant Sun. You are in a group of exiles who tried to rebel against the Babylonian Empire. You fought and you lost. The words of the prophets ring in your ears. Echoing their warnings. Weary you finally arrive in along the river Chebar. In despair you are surprised when you are allowed to build a home, a new way of life. You are allowed by the Babylonians to settle in this new land, not as slaves, but as exiles – away from your home, your temple, seemingly your God.

As your roots begin to grow along the banks of the new river, you begin to hear rumblings about another rebellion starting in Jerusalem. And as you do, you remember the words that were called out before your exile, “TURN AROUND – REPENT”, says the LORD, “TRUST ME! Do not trust in your own might but in the Lord of the fighting angels.” As these rumblings of revolution reverberate, a voice comes from the walls of your new city.

A voice set as a sentinel, screaming his message to Jerusalem. Ezekiel, whom you thought just got into some of the weird mushrooms, has been sending prophetic warnings back to Jerusalem. The man, born in the line of Joshua and a priest of the temple, gives warning to the inhabitants of his homeland.

The warning he shouts is the same as the prophets prior, “Turn around and Seek the Lord. If not, destruction will fall upon Jerusalem – the mighty edifice of the temple like the walls of Jericho will come a tumblin’ down.” He shouts, because he has no choice, for he has been set there by the hand of God to be the warning blast, he shouts, “Why do you seek death, day after day, for the Lord desires life?”

Through his tears, the priestly prophet, speaks, “The Lord says, I hear your questions. You ask why you are suffering, why you are abandoned. I tell you, it is because you have turned from me. Destruction will happen unless you repent. Unless you turn your face to me. You have brought this on yourselves for becoming a self-centered people. By continuing to turn to yourselves, you will bring your own destruction. Why do you keep seeking death. I am never going to give up on you, I will keep sending prophets, watchers on the wall, I will keep screaming, but unless you turn around and see me – see each other as I see you, you will die. Seek life, and you will be saved. I have no desire for this. My joy comes when you seek life.”

As the prophet shouts, you mourn for your homeland, that they will seek life and not be far from home like you. On, the willows there, you hang up the lyres, unable to sing for joy, but instead join in the prophets cry.

****

I don’t know about you all, but I am happy to be starting a new weeks. This past week is over and it is one I hope to not experience again – for good long while.

The news this week has not been one to instill hope in the human race.

Another journalist was slain by a group of people so evil that life to them is nothing but a joke. Life, unless lived in their very misguided and uninformed interpretation of their holy word, Life is worth nothing. The miss that their prophet calls for people to live in cooperation. Their prophet seeks for community be be built rather than destroyed. Yet, they take one word, one phrase, and use it to interpret all of their scriptures. Blood is on their hands. Blood is on their hearts. And one more of many is left laying in the desert sand.

The dogs of war are barking. They are braying for us to intervene and attack. Dogs of war, those hell hounds, are blood thirsty in seeking revenge. They are hungry to avenge the death of one while ignoring the path of destruction left in their wake. They do not see those left in their dung grow into the very groups they seek to avenge. The perpetual motion of war and revenge is countered by resistance and hardness of heart. These spin in a dance of death, that does not hear the cry of the prophet – turn around and seek life. The deadly dance spirals ever more and ever more inward until all the world outside blurs into one indiscernible blob of nothingness.

The news this week has not been one to instill hope in the human race.

Self centered greed mocks those who are risking their very livelihoods to demand a wage that pays enough to provide for their families. Those who dare to think they are owed a wage that would grow hope are mocked and ridiculed for being somehow deficient and less than. They are tuned into objects of derision. They are told they are stupid and insufficient members of the human race because they are the ones who serve us. They are the servants to the ruling class. How dare they seek to survive.

And yet, as they are mocked and told that we can not afford to pay 10 cents for a cheeseburger – they are told that the assistance they need because they can’t afford the food they cook, they are told their assistance is being cut. They food stamps are being slashed. They medicaid reduced. They benefits the ruling class are paying for to provide – costing more than a 10 cent increase in a quarter pounder – are being cut causing hopelessness. Destitution on multiple fronts.

And as the hopelessness grows and hatred begins it is relentless beat, they tangle with hubris and austerity. Again the black dance of death begins its precious pirouette. It begins the inward spin leaving in its wake resentment and retribution. The hate and hubris blend into one cyclone of destruction. Unable to seek life, death to the enemy would be welcome.

The news this week has not been one to instill hope in the human race.

It makes me want to throw up my hands and walk away. The warmongering, the classicism, the racism, the homophobia, the sexism, the ageism, the relentlessness of the dance of death around me makes me want to give up and run away as fast as I can.

The sin around me, begins to gnaw at me. I am sure at you too. When we are captive to such bad new all the time, the sins of the world make us scream why don’t you get it? And we begin to judge the world. It become a dangerous place to live. We begin to judge those we don’t understand, those we disagree with, those we are afraid of. We begin to see the world as something other than us. And as we do our self-righteousnes begins to twirl with our sense of superiority and we become part of the dark dance, oblivious to anything around us. We become shortsighted and unfocused. We begin to believe we are the arbiters of Justice. We begin to think we are God and are the ones in control.

And as we are caught in our own dances of darkness, we hear a watcher on the wall crying out. We hear the voice of the prophet in today’s text scream at the top of his lungs. “Stop the dance. Face the bandstand. Seek the bandleader. Seek the Lord and see what the Lord sees. The Lord sees a people lost in their pain. Lost in their despair. Lost in their anger. Lost in their wilderness.

“The Lord hears the cries of her people. The Lord hears you saying, ‘Where are you? We know we are broken and need fixin’. How, O Lord, can we heal?'”

The prophet turns to the band leader and and with a nod the the prophet speaks the words of the Lord.

“The Lord, says, o people. O, people of Emerson Avenue Baptist Church, The lord says, ‘Turn and face the band stand. Listen to my words, I ain’t never gonna give you up. I want you to stop your dance of death and dance with me. I want you to seek life. Not just your own but your neighbors and even more importantly your enemies. I want you to dance with me and see me in everyone. I want you to turn around and dance with me.

Because, O my people, because you are mine and I am yours. You are my creation. My love. I hate that which destroys you and want only to be with you. But you often leave me to dance with another. You leave me to dance in the dark with those things which cause you to forget me. Turn around and dance with me. I ain’t never gonna give you up.”

The words of the prophet carry across the eons in into this building. The words of the prophet are calling us to dance with the one who ain’t never gonna give us up. The darkness we face is not of the Lord’s but because we have turned away from the light of the Lord’s stage and sought shelter in the dark. Sought shelter in ourselves.

But in the end, the Lord want nothing more that for us to turn around and see the Lord. To see the glory of the one danced with Miriam on the other side of the Red Sea. To see the glory of the one in whose presence David danced. To see the glory of the one danced as the exiles left Babylon to return to Jerusalem. To see the glory of the one who danced with Esther and Ruth. Who danced with Mary and Elizabeth. Who danced at a wedding in Cana. Danced on the very grave of death.

The Lord calls to us saying I ain’t never gonna give you up. I want to dance with you in you sadness and and your joy. I want to dance with you in your fear and in your rejoicing. I want nothing more than dance with you. Turn around and face the bandstand. I ain’t never gonna give you up. I will keep sending singers to shout my message of love and forgiveness. Of mercy and grace. I will send singers, watchers all along the watchtower, to be bearers of my good news. Turn around and dance with me. I ain’t never gonna give you up.

May I have this dance.

Thanks be to God.


Get Up. Stand Up.

Jeremiah 15:15-21
Matthew 16:21-28
31 august, 2014

Get Up! Stand Up!

(Scene 1: The Prophet’s Cry)

O, Eternal One – you know the anguish I am facing. Remember me. Do not ignore me. Pay attention to my pain. The are the words that the Prophet Jeremiah is screaming to God. Often called the weeping prophet, Jeremiah, is, in my opinion the most real of the prophets. He feels an unrelenting call to be the voice of God; the voice of Justice and at the same time seems to get none of the pleasure a being a divine voice should give.

He is ignored. Mocked. Beaten. Left for dead. Called a false prophet by others in the King’s court. The words of is mouth, though scripture say they shatter rock, seem to be feathers lobbed at a brick wall. He did not want this job. He tried his best to ignore it…to give excuses. But the words of God burned in him. He was told by the Eternal One that he was made for this time. That he was knit together in his mother’s womb to be God’s voice.

Eventually he took the word of the LORD and consumed it. Devoured God’s word and was filled with the joy and exuberance of a new convert. He had a fire burning in his soul to do something. Anything. “When I discovered your Words,” he says, “I ate them up. There were my great joy and my heart’s delight.” Many of us understand that feeling. That just back from church camp feeling. That just home from holiday. That worship service that cause us to walk just a little bit faster. Made our heart heat a little quicker. That filled with the Sprit kind of feeling.

The prophet took that exuberance – that joy, and began to do God’s work. He began to proclaim to the King and his mother, “Come down from your thrones, and take a seat in a humble place, for your crowns will be taken from you….there will be no city gates open to you. You and your people, Judah, will be taken into exile….for you have forgotten the Eternal One and trusted the lies of another. Therefore, I, the Lord, will strip you naked and everyone will see your shame. They will see how you have cheated on me with another.” (from Jer. 13)

Filled with the fire and the courage of one filled with the word of the Lord, the prophet stood in the face of the powerful and named the ways they cheated on the Lord. The prophet, strong and mighty, stood boldly in the face of power. Only to be laughed at. Only to be mocked…ridiculed…again and again. His work never seemed to bear fruit. Instead of repenting the King and the people of Judah, continued to ignore the Word of the LORD.

A dark cloud began to cover the prophet of the Lord. “Why aren’t things going the way I want them to? Why can’t the hear what I am telling them? Why won’t they come to church with me and repent? Why do they mock me? Why do they call me crazy? Don’t they know they better turn around or your wrath, o God, will turn on them?” He began to doubt his mission. He had been doing everything right. He had said the right word. He kept himself away from troublemaker. He isolated himself. He began to develop a superiority complex. He began to think it was all about him.

Self-pity began to replace the powerful word of the Lord. Self-loathing lit the path. This is about me – I am the one who is obeying you, the prophet, thought, why have you abandoned me like water from a thirsty man?

(Scene 2: Our cry)

Why have you abandoned us like water from a thirsty people?

We see it all around us. The liars and tricksters are the ones who are gaining in the world. We point fingers at “those people” are taking our hard earned dollars and wasting them on pop and chips. We have done what we were told to do. Work hard. Do right. Preach about getting to heaven. We have done it all, so why won’t people listen to us? Why won’t they get it? We go to church. We go to bible study. We faithfully give our tithes and offerings. We keep ourselves away from “those kinds of people.” So, why don’t we see results? Ahh…it doesn’t matter. We are going to heaven, so it doesn’t matter. Let the world go to pot. It’s time to give up.

I am sure this has been the thought process for many of us. I know I have thought this from time to time. If we are honest with ourselves, we probably think like this more than we care to admit.

Most of us here have experienced being filled with God’s Spirit. We talked about it on Wednesday in Bible Study. Those moments of pure joy. Pure exhilaration. Those times when we are “on fire for Christ,” and ready to conquer the world. We have been so filled with the Word of God that nothing will stop us. Like Peter when asked who Jesus is, we reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of God.” We are blessed by being able to see Jesus for who he is. We are filled with Holy Fire. We are the bedrock of the church.

I can’t tell you how many times I came back from church camp or youth conference so filled with fire that I was practically bouncing off the walls. I would blast my Petra in the car, I would scream with Stryper. I was not afraid to wear the t-shirt that told the world I belonged to God’s Gym. The fire burned in my belly to tell the world about God.

I would gather at the flag pole praying for the school and the city. I would try to invite my friends to hear Christian Comedians, I wanted to save souls. I became a defender of God. I tried to protect God. When people would laugh, I would tell them they were making a mistake.Eventually it became hard. People started to mock me and make fun of me.And now, I was again like Peter telling Jesus what to do. It became about me. About how I felt. It became about making sure I was following all the rules. That I was isolating myself. I began to be weighed down with guilt. The fire began to go out.

I thought I had done everything right. But years later, I realized the fire that was burning in me was the fire of one who, yes, had devoured the word of the Lord, but I ate it so fast that I could not enjoy the taste of it. I was so hungry for something, that I thought it was all about me being fed and I hoarded it. I blocked the nutritional benefits by not letting them soak in. I sat like the weeping prophet longing for something that was missing.

When everything around us is churning in the chaos of the primordial sea, it is natural for us to seek shelter. To seek safety from the storm. We pray as the prophet did, as I did. We are doing everything right, aren’t we? Why are we suffering so? We have had the fire. We have devoured Your Word? We have screamed our belief from the mountain tops, and they all just laugh at us and mock up. They ignore our pleas. Why have you left us thirst?

(Scene 3: God’s response to the Prophet)

While he is shrouding himself in self-pity, the Lord speak to the prophet saying, “Are you done? Take your time, but when you are, turn around and look at me. Look at me. Taste the words. Let them nourish you. I will restore you. But hear them for what they are. Not words of piety to should screamed at people. Not words of superiority. Not words of your self-righteousness, but of my righteousness. Of my truth. Of my justice. Of my judgment. Of my redemption. Stop making them about you.

Get up. Stand up. If you speak my words instead of what yo think my words are, You will be speaking for me. Let the people come. Let them try to hurt you. Let them laugh. Let them mock you. When you speak my words…MY WORDS of justice, transformation, and redemption, when you speak my words, I will make you like a wall of bronze. Yeah, the words will hurt, but it won’t matter – they will not win. These are my words. Get up. Stand up. I will rescue you.”

In the middle of his self-pity, the word of the Lord comes to him and calls him out of himself and into the world that laughs at him and mocks hime. The words that the Lord had given the prophet were not words of an immature child, spewing out undigested fragments, but of words that have been digested, interpreted. Words that speak God’s truth in the face of power.

The mission of the prophet is no longer about him, but about the Word of God. God tells the prophet to Get up. Stand up. And be the voice of truth, of justice, of transformation.

(Scene 4: God’s responds to Us.)

Jesus tells Peter, “Get behind me, Satan. You are just getting in the way. Your belief is not enough. Just saying I am messiah is not enough. If you keep just saying that eventually you will think it is you you are talking about. You setting your minds toward human things, bringing glory to yourself and not setting your mind on divine things. Instead, my brothers and sisters, you are on the path of being a disciple. And being a disciple means bearing a cross. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

The Son of Man is coming in all his Father’s Glory. You will see. Many of you will see the son of Man in this glory before you taste death.”

Jesus is redirecting Peter’s thinking. He is pushing Peter and the disciples and us beyond just belief but into the steps of true messianic discipleship. Into sacrificial discipleship. Jesus is calling us our of our selves and out of the belief that we are the ones who name what it means to be a follower of Christ.

Jesus called me out of the accusatory and demeaning ways of my youth. My belief was strog – I ate the words up, but it was through the being laughed at, through the being ignored. It was through my walk in the wilderness that I began to savor the Word of God. That I let the flavor of justice touch my lips. That the aroma of grace infiltrated my nostrils. That the nourishment of God’s love push through my veins that I began to see what it was all about.

I saw the Son of Man in all his glory there on the cross. I saw what Jesus was talking about. I understood that being a disciple meant not trying to convince people that Jesus was the way, but that being a disciple was a way of living in The Way. The Way of standing up for the oppressed. Of giving voice to the voiceless. Of walking along side the broken. It was expressed not in judgmental accusations, but in a grace filled life. And it meant, still being picked on. It meant being ridiculed. It meant being mocked and laughed at – but this time it wasn’t because it was me pointing a finger at people; rather it was because I was acting in a way that made people see a reflection of the Reign of God. And you know what, It doesn’t matter to me anymore that people laugh and mock. Because I am not doing these things for myself, but for God. For the Reign of God.

The Reign of God where we are picked up. Dusted off. Given power. Given voice. The Reign of God where the four year old and the 104 year old can stand side by side and call each other sister. The Reign of God were are are promised, like the prophet of old – where we are promised that when we speak and act with God’s words – God is with us. That when we carry our cross, we carry it not for ourselves or by ourselves. That we carry it with the one who gave up everything for us. That we when we bear our cross we are carrying with us the Glory of God. The sacrificial Glory of God.

And when we are mocked and ridiculed – we get up and stand up and praise God because God is our strength that pulls us up.

When we are hurting and carrying too much trouble – we get up and stand up and praise God because God is our comfort – wrapping arms around us to keep us from sinking.

When the chaotic rivers of our life are tossing us to and fro – we get up and stand up and praise God because it is God who calms the storms. It is God who stills the sea. It is God who quiets the wind.

When we feel we need to defend God it is time to Get Up and Stand Up because it is God who is defending us. God doesn’t need our protection, but instead covers us with the wings of a mother Hen.

We get up. We stand up. Because when we are there on the ground it is God reaching down God’s hands picking us up.

We get up. We stand up. Because the way of disciple ship is the cross and the only way to get there is on our feet. And when we are walking along our own via dela rosa, on our way to our calvary, and the weight of the cross gets too heavy, the burden of our messianic discipleship gets too much to bear – when we fall there on The Way – There is Christ to pick up our cross and carry it for us. Leading the way to calvary, where in all his Glory he gives us everything so that we can go on.

We get up. We stand up. Because truly, that is all we can do.

Thanks be to God.


Made New

Justin Thornburgh
Emerson Avenue Baptist Church
Revelation 22:1-5
Ellenberger Park
24 August, 2014

Made New

These pictures from the pages of the Revelation of St. John are some of the most beautiful in all of scripture. If anything, John could paint a picture that triggers the divine spark in our imaginations.

These beautiful images are images of hope. Of that which we long for. They are images of a river flowing so freely and unobstructed that it has no rapids. Its current takes the traveler from the throne of God and the Lamb into the city of God. We ride on glass- looking into the river we see not only our own reflections but through the reflected images we see deep into the waters of space and time. We see all that was, all that is, all that is still yet to be. In this waters of life is the story of us – is the story of God’s through us – is the story of God with us.

Stepping into the city we notice something that we had not noticed before. We notice that the river is not flowing to God. Rather the river flows into the city from God. The river flows from God into the streets of the city bathing them in crystalline life. The divine spark touches every element of the city. The streets that were destroyed are made new. The eroding edifices – washed – shine like the stars. The river of live flows down the middle of the street towards a tree.

The roots of the tree are deep in the ground. Being fed by this overflowing river. And the waters of the river rise up the tree, combining their molecules with the molecules of the leaves in divine photosynthesis – and as the pules of life drives through the leaves the tree begins to bear fruit. Fruit that is never ending. Food with out end. No seed time or harvest. But always enough. Here in the middle of the city – the city made new – is the Garden of Eden. Made new.

A world without sin. Without war. Without the brokenness of Babble. And as we dine in divine light, there are no words on our lips other than praise for the one who brought us this far. Praise for the one who has marked us as God’s own. And as the day should draw to night – we discover that there is no need for rest for we are filled. We are in the midst of the giver of life. In deed, we have been made new.

Friends, these words are words of profound hope. The are the picture of the promise that one day – all will be made new. They are what was intended in Eden. And it is easy for us to get embraced by their beauty. It is so wonderful to hear these words. Especially when it seems everything around us in chaos.

Rather than a river of life, we have streets painted in the blood of children. Instead of eating from the tree of life, we don’t know if we are going to have enough to eat. Instead of everlasting light, the dark clouds surround us day and night and light is the elusive taunt of hope.

We hear words like these and we begin to build walls around us, hoping that if we do, we will be safe from all the trouble of the world. If we build the wall high enough, the fortifications strong enough – we will be able to gain access to this eschatological hope. This divine beauty. But what happens is that we being to divorce ourselves from the reality going on around us. We get so focused on Glory that we forget the reality of the cross – and that in the reality of the cross, we are already a part of this final scene.

You see, the message of the cross is one that breaks through our walls and fortifications. The message of the cross is one that rather than divorcing us from the reality of the world around us – draws us into it. In the reality of the cross, all things are made new.

In the reality of the cross, the rock filled rapids have been made smooth by a God who came to stand in the midst of the rapids.

In the reality of the cross, God’s own blood ran down the streets.

In the reality of the cross, a brown man raised his hands and was killed by the state because he refused to say that this is all there is.

In the reality of the cross, God came to live and die with us and in doing so made all things new.

Because in the reality of the cross, death is not the final answer.

On the cross hangs all of our grief, our pain, our humiliation, our sin, our brokenness. There hangs the powers of death and chaos. There hangs hate and hubris. On the cross God is with us. On the cross – the river of live begins to flow from the throne of God making all things new.

Because in the reality of the cross, death is not the final answer.

As the river of life begins to flow, it meanders is way through our mess. It begins to wash away the feelings of hate and hubris, pain and chaos. The river of life flowing from the cross washes the blood from the streets and makes its way into each of us.

Those of us gathered as the church have experienced the glory that is to come, and are not called to hide behind it. To sit wishing for it. But to be bearers of it. We have experienced being made new. We are not new beings. We are the same broken and mixed up people, but we have been made new. Through the reality of the cross.

We have experienced what it means to be told we are loved. To be held when we are hurting. To be carried when we can not stand. We have experienced what it is like to find a community that embraces us for who we are. And it is not ours to hoard.

These beautiful words are not just words of what is to come, but of what is. We are here as witnesses to it. Let us not be afraid anymore. Let us be those who have been made new.

When the streets are dark and bloody, we are to be the river of life helping rebuild community rather than erect walls.

When the dark clouds of depression overwhelm, we are to be divine light sitting in the darkness, present, holding, helping. Silent if we need to be. The divine light will pierce the darkness. We are just its bearers.

When the truth of racism, sexism, homophobia, any of the walls that we are told to build being to lay the mortar at our feet, we are to take them and say not in God’s name. We are to take the bricks of those walls and use to build a gathering place for all God’s children.

We have been touched by the reality of the cross and have been made new. We have seen the holy city. We have been tasted the river of life. We have been made new. Let us go and make all things new with the promise that what will be .. is.

Thanks be to God.


Heart Transplant

Justin Thornburgh
Emerson Avenue Baptist Church
Matthew 15:10-33
17 August, 2014

Heart Transplant

Jesus had just had a confrontation with the preachers and the officers. They demanded he tell them why his disciples did not was their hands before a meal as prescribed by the purity codes of the tradition. By not washing their hands first they were defiling their bodies and making them impure before the Lord. Why was Jesus, this supposed rabbi, allowing such sinning. Jesus challenged them by asking them, “is there not a commandment about loving one’s mother and father? Whoever speaks of their father must die. But you say, ‘I don’t have to listen to my father because I have been told do to this or that by God,’ are you not breaking the commandment? You are making void the world of God – for the sake of your own wellbeing. Isaiah was right, you hypocrites. He said, ‘this people worship me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain teaching human rules and doctrines.”

Needless to say, the Pharisees were flummoxed and the scribes scandalized. They left in a hurry. Then Jesus gathered those who were nearby and told them:

“Listen up folks, pay attention – it isn’t what you eat or how you eat that defiles you – it doesn’t matter what goes in your mouth, but it is rather it is what comes out of your mouth that makes you dirty.”

“Um, Jesus, You do know the preachers and officers were offended by what you told them? Right?”

Jesus replied to them – “Every plant Daddy has not planted is going to be pulled up.  Don’t worry about them – they are blind leading the blind. Eventually they are going to fall into a pit.”

“Jesus,” said Peter, “you know I am dense – explain this parable to us.”

Eyes rolling, Jesus began – “Ok, when you eat you put the food in your____.” “Mouth,” they reply. 

“Right, and after you eat what happens?”

“You have to go to the toi…..Ohhhh, I get it.”

“Ok, So what goes in doesn’t matter because it ends up in the toilet, but it is what comes out that matters because that comes from you heart. For out of your hearts come the evil intentions, murder, adultery, sexual exploitation, robbery, false testimony, and blasphemy. These are the things that defile a person, not what they eat.”

With that Jesus got up and left the safety of the sanctuary and wander to the land of Ferguson in Missouri. A land where racial tensions were high. A land where there was a real divide of “us” and “them.” A land where he knew the preachers and the officers would not be. A land in the margins where God had drawn him.

Just then, just as he stepped foot into town, a woman who was not of his tribe, came running up to him. Tears streaming from her eyes, and really undignified like, she started clinging to him and crying out, “Have mercy on my, Lord, Son of David; my baby is tormented by a demon.”

Sensing a teaching moment, Jesus decided to test his disciples. To see if they had even comprehended what he had said. He did not answer here. Instead he moved deeper into the troubled city. Half-hoping his disciples would respond to the call. Well, respond they did, they shoved her out of the way and rushed to Jesus, “what are we doing here? Send her away. She keeps hounding us.”

Testing them again, even thought he was pretty sure they didn’t get it, Jesus said, “I was sent only to help out the lost sheep of my race.”

Undeterred, she clung to him. “Lord, help me.”

Pushing the disciples to respond, Jesus replies, seemingly in contradiction to his own commands, “It isn’t fair for me to help you. Why should I take the food out of my own people’s mouth to help you? It isn’t fair. I can’t take their food and throw it do the dogs.”

The weakness leaving her legs, the woman stands tall and proud. Fierceness returning to he visage. Dignity filling her very soul. Enough is enough. She stands up and as she does, a smile crosses Jesus’ face. The disciples are afraid. He sees what they don’t – this woman get’s it. She gets that what is coming from the heart is stronger what what goes in the mouth. She has heard enough and is rising. “Yes, Lord,” she whispers with the power of a mother whose love for her child knows no bounds. “Yes,Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Embracing here – this untouchable – this woman who the disciples had initially seen as someone outside of themselves. Embracing here, Jesus pulls here into the family of God – acknowledging publicly here God given humanity – her imago Dei,  “Woman, Great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And instantly her daughter stood, proud and strong. Dignity restored. Hope renewed. Life transformed.

*****

This week the heart of this nation has been tested. Like the disciples in the Gospel this morning – we stand in the midst of rising racial tensions. Tensions like the ones that separated the Canaanites, the historical enemies of the Hebrews, from the disciples of Jesus and Jesus himself. Racial tensions that gave the disciples the ability to refer to this broken hearted woman as a dog. Notice, they did not defend her? They did not speak up. They were in need of a heart transplant. 

This weeks the we have seen racial tension rise like they have not in years. In the aftermath of the murder of Michael Brown, we have seen things most of us wish were still hidden. We have heard about corruption and systems that we would rather pretend just stay hidden at the margins of our society. Those of us with power and privilege are at a loss for why there seems to be so much anger rising from the streets of Ferguson. 

Those of us with power and privilege – basically those of us who are able to psychologically divorce ourselves from the reality of what is going on by switching the channel or ignoring the news – when we do pay attention struggle to understand what is going on. We see people destroying property. Having no self-respect. Making themselves look bad. We stand in the long line of power that either willfully or unintentionally has had an unfeeling heart toward those in the margins. Through our own prejudices or racialized polices that are inflicting unseen damage -unseen to us.

This isn’t a new story. It is happening to the disciples in the gospel this morning. Jesus has just confronted the pharisees and scribes and told them it is their words and actions that matter, not the rules and regulations. He has just explained what another prophet meant when he told the Hebrew people of old, 

“Thus says the lord, I hate, I despise your festivals,

   and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 

Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,

   I will not accept them;

and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals

   I will not look upon. 

Take away from me the noise of your songs;

   I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 

But let justice roll down like waters,

   and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. “

Stop talking and do something. He is telling them they need a heart transplant. Stop relying on your own heart. Stop worshipping your piety. Stop trusting in your own righteousness, and instead be implanted with a new heart. A heart that does not find false hope in “evil intentions, murder, adultery, sexual exploitation, robbery, false testimony, and blasphemy.” A heart that does not find rest in the status quo. A heart that does not look at the world as “us” and “them”. 

Jesus challenges the religious leaders (me), the powerful and the privileged, and even his disciples to stop relying on themselves and live with a transplanted heart. A new heart that beats justice. That beats equality. Be implanted with a heart that is beating with the blood of the creator of the Beloved Community. A heart that beats in tandem with our brothers and sisters. A heart that came into being when God breathed life in the the ones created in God’s image. Jesus reminds us all, that worship of God is manifest in actions, not words or self-righteous piety.

When confronted with the opportunity to act as people with new hearts, the disciples fail. They fail to see the woman who comes to Jesus as fellow child of God. They fail to know who she is and how she got to the point of breaking. How how her child became possessed by a demon. Not excuses, but history.

They fail to hear that since 1619, people of African descent have been subjects rather that persons. They fail to understand that for 150 years before the founding of the nation, people had been enslaved. The economic and physical infrastructure of a nation was built on the scared backs of a people – who like their Hebrew ancestors – were relegated to the status of property rather than person hood – and when that happened it was only 3/5 of a person. They fail to see that even after they were allowed to cross the red sea into freedom, there were vagrancy laws put in place to make it near impossible for the newly freed people to own land. And when those laws began to falter, might Jim Crow rose to take its place. Keeping free people subjugated to the will of the majority. And as Jim Crow began to fall, a new war was rising that would give rise to a for-profit prison industrial complex that determines how many beds they will need by looking at 3rd grade test scores. The disciples fail to see how the demon bored its way into the girls heart – emptying her.

The demon of mistrust. The demon of resentment. The demon history. Slowly it bored itself into her heart. Slicing her psyche. Causing her to mistrust. Causing her to resent the powers that have authority; to miss the hope in history. The demon has taken full control of her. Possessed, she has tried to fight the urge – she has tried to “stay in her place.” But as her screams have gone unheard, the voice of the unheard explodes. The disciples can not to see. 

Their minds are full of  reasons – justified and not. I wasn’t there. I don’t even live in that part of the country. That happened long before I was ever born. How can I have anything to do with what is going on? All rational reasons. Reasons that make senses – reasons I have used, but reasons that give rise to excuses rather than healing. Reasons that feed the demon, rather than seeing it for what it is – the power of death.

Through all of this, through all of the questioning for the mother and from the disciples. Through all of the back and forth a banter about who is to blame for the situations of unrest, through it all, Jesus walks into the operating theater of the margins to perform surgery.

Jesus steps into the land of the Canaanites, into the streets of Ferguson, Mo, into the streets of Indianapolis. Jesus steps into the margins, into those dark and hidden crevasses we would rather ignore. He steps into our pain – into our sickness. He meets us where we are. His hands gloved, ready to perform a heart transplant. Like all surgery it is going to hurt. It is going to take that which is broken and remove it. It is going to cut deep so as to remove all traces of brokenness. It is going to, though in the end, bring healing and renewed life. 

The events of the last week were, I pray, the beginning of a collective heart transplant for not only the nation, but for the Church as a whole. The all too silent church in the midst of such unrest. The church was silent in the aftermath of the violence, both against Mr. Brown and in the rioting afterwards. Violence is never the recourse that should be made. That should be the church’s answer anytime she is asked. Hear that, that way of the church is non-violence. Even when it seems that a violent response is the necessary answer. In the last 48 hours we have seen what happens when the threat of violence is replaced with the ethic of mutual respect – when the threat of a militarized police force is replaced by a heart willing to listen. Rubber bullets and tear gas have been replaced with hugs and a willingness to listen.

The events of the last week have opened wounds we thought had been healed. We see a grieving mother mourning the death of her son, to her it doesn’t matter the circumstance of his death – she just knows a mother is supposed to out live her son. We have seen a gas station burned to the ground and owners loosing their livelihood because their business happened to be where all of the events began. We have seen teargas lobbed and rubber bullets blasted, journalists arrested, people clamoring to be heard and resorting to violence in order to be heard. We all are crying out, “Lord, save me.” The events of the last week and opened wounds in all of us. 

Jesus gets that. Jesus is bearing the wounds of history, laying bare before us the brokenness – and collective misunderstanding of our history. Jesus is taking individuals, you, me, black, white, Latino, Latina, asian, LGBT, straight, and laying us bare. Offering us a chance at healing. Knowing often times we don’t know our own illness until we begin to feel sick. Until the wounds become so infected we can not ignore them any longer. Jesus is ready to change our hearts. To open our eyes – all of our eyes. It doesn’t matter where you have been on the subject before – we all need a change of heart. 

When it seems that Jesus is ignoring the please of the woman, she finds her power and is greatly rewarded. When it seems that we are abandoned by God – when our wounds are exposed, it is then that we stand collectively and say, “LORD HELP ME.” It is in that sense of absence that we understand our dependence on God and on each other. As Dr. King says, “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.” 

The love ethic of Jesus breaks through all of the boundaries of isms that we use to separate us. It is when we are laid bare – exposed and know we need healing that Jesus performs the miracle. That the love of Jesus breaks through the darkness of our hearts. That we begin to identify ourselves as persons of dignity and worth. That we begin to see others as persons of dignity and worth. That regardless of our circumstances, we are inescapably bound together. That we rely on each other – that we are to carry each other when we fall. That regardless of race or religion, gender or sexual identity – we are all created in the Divine Image. 

Jesus is testing disciples. Jesus is testing us. Do we stand on the sidelines of history, waiting for a prettier dawn, or do we stand as sisters and brothers – all – regardless of our differences, ready to step out in faith – in the love ethic of Jesus, ready to proclaim the gospel truth of the Beloved Community? Do we beat each other down or do we stand as people with new hearts – telling the world that God’s reign is a reign of peace and personhood? A reign that does not say, yes to the self-centered idol of me, myself and I, but instead reaches out of ourselves, reaches out as individuals into a community of sisters and brothers. Do we watch helplessly – throwing blame left and right, blaming police or protestors, history or time present time; do we make excuses for why we should not be involved, or do we go with Jesus, transformed and hopeful – hopeful that when the sun sets on the eve of hatred and avarice, it will rise again shining a new light, a light of reconciliation and redemption. Do we stand as wounded victims or a world spinning out of control, or do we stand healed – healed healers in the middle of heartbreak? This week the heart of the nation has been tested.

Thanks be to God.


Walks On

Justin Thornburgh
Emerson Avenue Baptist Church
Matthew 14:21-33
10 August, 2014

Walks On

The miraculous meal is over. The baskets are full – 12 of them. Jesus has sent the disciples away. He sent them back to the boat and to head to the other side of the sea. Jesus blesses the gathered crowd and sends them on their way. Sending them away with full bellies and overflowing spirits. And now Jesus heads to the mountain to pray. Like Moses and Elijah – there close to the clouds he spends time with the still small voice that is God.

After waiting a while for the Jesus, the disciple figure it is best to head back to the other side of the sea. This isn’t the first time Jesus has wandered off to pray, they knew he would catch up with them in the morning. The needed to get going because the fishermen among them could smell the change in the air. They knew there was a storm coming. And storms on the Sea of Galilee came on quickly and with ferocity. It is no small body of water – about the size of Washington D.C. On a good day it would take most of the day to cross, but with the storm brewing the disciples knew they would have to work hard to make it safely.

They pushed out and about a third of the way through the strong winds began to blow. They dropped the sails and began to use the oars. The twelve of them – six on each side began to rock in the rhythm of the swelling sea. The salty water stinging their eyes. For some – especially the tax collector – the bounteous gift of loaves and fish became food for the fish as he wretched overboard. The wind tossed the small wooden framed boat around like a bath toy in the hands of a sugared up toddler in the tub.

Then the rain and the lightening started. Molten arcs of burning electrons reached from the sea to the heavens. The pelting rain stung – it was coming down with such force. Thaddeus began his bailing duty. In a matter of minute the water – from the waves and the rain – had begun to fill the boat. Bucket in hand he began Sisyphean task of emptying the boat only to have new water fill the vessel.

The noise was deafening. The pouring rain on the sea. The pelting of the planks of wood on the boat. The roar of the waves outdone by the shriek of the wind. James and John along with Andrew and Peter were shouting to each other trying to figure out how to keep afloat. If these four were terrified – these fishermen who knew this sea like the back of their hands, how could the others be expected to keep calm? All hope seemed to be lost.

And then the other James began hallucinating. “Is that Jesus?” he asks to no one in particular. The others looked where he was and knew that death must be near for they all saw the ghost approaching thorough the pouring rain and rocking waves. Steady in the screaming wind. “It’s is a ghost,” another voice yelled. Panic filled the boat. The bailing had ceased. The water kept coming in. It was a moment of resignation when they knew they had lost the battle. There in the middle of the sea they would find their rest.

But then the voice. The voice they knew so well seemed to be with them on the boat. “Take heart, I AM, Do not be afraid.” And even though they couldn’t explain how, a sense of peace came over the boat. They saw Jesus. Peter leaning off the stern of the boat shouted at the the phantasm, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you.” “Come,” replied the voice.

With singleness of mind, leaving his terrified friends, Peter leapt out of the boat and on the the water and he did not sink. Tears flooded his sea salt burning eyes. His burning eyes focused on who he knew now was Jesus. Step after precarious step he walked toward Jesus, and then a Strong Wind caught him off guard changed his focus. He lost his sight and began to sink. “LORD SAVE ME!” And as water began to fill his lungs, a hand came down and pulled him out of the water. “Peter, Why did you doubt?”

****

I don’t know about you, but up until recently every time I heard this story it stopped there. Jesus seeming to scold Peter. Scolding him for not having faith. For not trusting in Jesus. This story for me as a kid was really cool. I mean, come on, Jesus was walking on water. But it was also very guilt inducing.

There were several times, at church camp, in the swimming pools, in the bathtub even when I tried to walk on the water like Peter. Now, is time for confession – please tell me I was not alone in this? Show of hands, who tried to walk on the water? I know at least one of you because we talked about it earlier this week. [Acknowledge the number]. Ok, now of those of you who tried – how man succeeded? That’s what I thought, I was the king of the splash down.

Now, how did that make you feel? For me, it made me feel like garbage. I believed in Jesus. I trusted in him. I went to church. I sang in Choir. I wore those really cheesy t-shirts in the 90’s. I was a Christian and I failed. I felt like Jesus was scolding me. “You of little faith. Why do you doubt?” When I tried to step of the water I was doing it in faith. What is wrong with me that I failed? Why wasn’t I good enough? I felt like garbage.

For so long we have been told that this story is about us. That is about our lack of faith. That we are somehow deficient and weak. That it is about us strengthening our faith so that we can walk on the water, so that we can move a mountain. How much faith is the faith of a mustard seed?

So, maybe if we lock ourselves up. If we draw into ourselves and pray more or go to church more or this or that our faith will increase. Then we will not get scolded by Jesus.

But church, if that is how we read this story. If that is how it has been ingrained into our psyches, then it misses the whole point of the story. It makes the story about us and our weakness and not about Jesus and his amazing power! This is not a story about Peter. It is not a story about us. It is a story about Jesus.

It is a story about the same Jesus who fed 10,000 and is now walking through a storm to get to those he loves. It is about a Jesus who, when Peter gets overwhelmed by the stormy winds, reaches out his hand and picks him up. It is about a Jesus who carries his friend into the boat and calms the storm. It is about the one whom the disciples – for the first time – say, “Surely this is the Son of God!”

We are characters in this story. We are Peter and the Disciples. Some of us are stuck on the boat in fear – and that is ok. That is where you are. Some of us are Peter who take that leap of faith and say, “Yes Lord.” All of us are those scared ones who are so overwhelmed by the storm winds in front of us it is hard to see Jesus. The storm winds that causes us to question. That draws our focus.

Church there are stormy winds that are always blowing in our lives.

The stormy winds blow when we are trapped by fear. When the violence around us is killing the children in our streets. When their blood rains down like the rain of the stormy sea.

The story winds blow when the news we see makes us long for the time when we will see Jesus’ return. The lives lost in Gaza. The bombs in Ukraine. The slaughter of the innocents in Iraq.

The Stormy winds blow when we cast blame for the worlds problems on the “other.” And don’t acknowledge our complicity. The fact that the bombs used to kill children in Gaza are made by us. The fact that the slaughter in Iraq stems from our ill-informed engagement. The fact that part of the reason there is violence on the streets is because the church has been silent for so long – so insulated that they did not notice the warning signs. So wrapped up in trying to survive that it misses its neighbors dying.

The story winds blow when the unemployment rate on the Near east side of Indy is near 15%. That one in three people in our neighborhood lives in poverty. That people returning from prison return to a neighborhood that has no options – and the only response is to return to crime to feed families.

The stormy winds blow when the number of prison beds is determined by 3rd grade test scores.

The stormy winds blow when children crossing our borders for safety are seen as vermin instead of the crying and grieving face of God.

The stormy winds blow when we are hit with the diagnosis what will change how we experience the world. That the angel of death is real.

The stormy winds blow when the bills have piled so high that there is no way out. That in order to survive choices need to be made that will either feed the kids or the line the pockets of the electric company.

The stormy winds blow when the cloak of invisibility covers us and we feel ignored and forgotten.

The stormy winds blow and as they do a voice cries out – “Take Heart! I AM! Do not fear.”

The voice of Jesus – the voice that healed the sick, fed the multitudes, challenged the authorities, that blew the cosmos into existence – the voice of Jesus cries out to us in the middle of the storm and we respond by stepping out of the boat. We respond in faith. “Precious Lord, take my hand.” We respond knowing and trusting that it is Jesus who calls us out into the stormy winds. It is Jesus who stands in the middle of the storm. It is Jesus who, when the winds distract us and we fall – it is Jesus who reaches out his hand and instead of scolding us say, “Why do you doubt. I am here.” It is Jesus who reaches out his hand and picks us up and carries us back to the boat. It is Jesus who calms the storm and brings us safely to the shore. It is Jesus who truly is the Son of God.

So, sisters and brothers. Don’t feel bad when you fall. When the stormy winds of life knock you about. Don’t feel that you are not worthy when your faith falters. When doubt and questions overtake you. Reach out out hand and cry with Peter. “LORD SAVE ME.” That is the act of faith. That is the acknowledgement that we depend on God rather than ourselves. That is what happens when we reach out our hands.

Jesus did not ignore or scold Peter. He does not ignore or scold us. He walks on water in the middle of the stormy winds to take our and and bring us to safety. “Precious Lord, take my hand.”

Thanks be to God.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,166 other followers