Sermon October 19: Whose Image?

Here is the Audio Link

Matthew 22:15-22

Whose Image?

Things aren’t always as they seem.

Any fan of fantasy or science fiction can attest to that. The world of Harry Potter is full of unforeseen twists and turns. In the Game of Thrones, all we seem to know for certain is that Winter is Coming. We don’t expect in Neverwhere that the angels turn out to be a bit more nefarious than we expect. We were shocked when we learned that Darth Vader was Luke’s father. And of course, with Dr. Who – well, just run.

Things aren’t always what they seem.

Masks are put on to present faces we want the world to see. A mask of confidence. A mask of compassion. A mask of power. We strap on the image we want to present to the world. Sometimes that image influences the rest of our being; the mask of confidence causes us to straighten our spine and make it safely through difficult times. Other times, though, the mask becomes something outside of ourselves. A mask of power covers the hopelessness that is constantly at our core. A mask of compassion, covers the contempt we really feel towards those in need.

Things aren’t always what they seem.

And that is what is happening in today’s Gospel. The students of the pharisees and those loyal to Herod come to entrap Jesus. They are wearing their masks of pride, and Jesus sees through he mask and causes them to look in the mirror and truly ask, whose image.

****

After Jesus had scared the pharisees by telling them that God takes the rejected stone and uses the rejected ones to build a new kingdom, they retreat back to the temple. Their masks of concern had been take off to reveal the face of contempt. They had tried to trap Jesus, but now left humiliated and vengeful. They needed to find a way to trap him – either by him rejecting the God of Israel and blaspheming or by causing him to become more of a threat to the Roman authorities. Something had to be done.

While they were laying out their plans, Jesus remained on the Temple steps teaching those gathered about a wedding feast that a king was having and how he had sent invitations to those who were closest to him. He had prepared the finest banquet imaginable. As Jesus described the feast, the gathered people accustomed to abject poverty were able to get a glimpse of heave.

The king had invited all of his friends, but each one had an excuse to ignore the invitation. Fed up with it all, the king opened the table to all who were in the streets. All of the forgotten and frowned upon. The king destroyed the palaces of power that were the possession of those who ignored him, but to those who had been outcast – the king saw through their masks and saw their hurting and hunger and opened to them his gates.

The kings saw, things are not always as they seem.

As he was finishing this story, the pharisees, afraid to be seen without their masks had sent their students to try to trap Jesus. These students partnered with some of the Herod’s troops in their attempt.

Wearing their masks of pride, they butter Jesus up saying, “Teacher – you are a good man, a wise man…in fact we call you teacher. We know you are faithful and know truly what the scriptures say and we trust your opinion – So, settle for us. Should we pay taxes to Caesar?”

Jesus, seeing through the prideful masks – seeing their deviousness and dedication to their dogma, rips their masks off.

“Hypocrites! Anyone can see what you are doing. Give me a coin….Now whose image is on it?”

Pausing – confounded they reply, “Caesar.”

“Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.”

Things aren’t always as they seem. The students left stunned. Amazed. In his response he had shown them the mask they wear and in that they had seen their reflection. They left asking whose image?

Things aren’t always as they seem.

****

Jesus unmasks they powers for what they are – idols that have only one purpose. To separate God’s beloved from God. And the masks we wear are reflections of the powers.

In telling the students and the followers of Herod that they should give to Caesar what is his and to God what is God’s he unmasked the truth of the situation. He revealed to them that the image – the true unmasked image is that of God. For the earth is the Lord’s and all things in it. He exposed to them the face of the idolatry they were hanging on to. And with the words – Give to God all that is God’s – he turned the tables yet again.

In trying to trap Jesus, Jesus took their masks off and gave them truth.

Things aren’t always what they seem.

The masks we wear start to become us. We look in the mirror and see the reflection of the mask we are wearing. But Jesus is asking us whose image is on the coin. Whose reflection to we see? Whose image is on the mask?

Is it the image of political allegiances that bind rationality and reason? Is it the image that reflects the ideology that liberals as leftist anarchists bent on destroying the country or conservatives are science denying simpletons worried only about themselves? Is it the image of the daily news throwing in our faces the fear of Ebola?

Whose image is in the mirror? Whose image is the mask?

Is it the image of fear? Is it the image of the mountains of bills backing up on the dining room table? Is it the image of an enemy created in the image of some false creator – the scary black man, the redneck hillbilly, the brown skinned Muslim, the immigrant with out papers? Is the image that causes us to loose sleep at night a reflection of the mask of fear?

Whose image is in the mirror? Whose image is the mask?

Is it the mask of money, building an idol to mammon in our midst? Is is the reflection of unintended or intended self-centeredness because what’s mine is mine and keep your hands off it? Is it the mask of hubris that reminds the world that you have what you have because you worked hard for it, and if you don’t have anything it is your own fault.

Whose image is in the mirror? Whose image is the mask?

Can you even see the reflection? Has the mask been on so long it has molded to your face? Have they eyeholes closed up and you can not even see the mirror? Whose image?

Jesus asks whose image is on the idol in their hands, and tells them that it is all God’s. The copper of the coming came from the mine in the mountain that God laid at the foundations of the earth. The earth is the Lord’s and all that dwells therein.

Jesus takes the mask off and reveals something beautiful. Underneath the mask meant to protect is the image of the Divine. The refection in the mirror, if the mask is removed is the it image of the one who created – who created all of this.

Jesus takes our masks off and calls us into him. You are the Lord’s. Jesus turns the tables and smashes the idols that we wear and asks us, whose image? In whose image are you made? In whose image do you live? In whose image are you?

Jesus unmasks us. And in our uncertainty and in our vulnerability, Jesus calls us his. Jesus, says, look at the mask-less reflection and see yourself for whose you are. See your self in whose image you were created.

Jesus in taking our masks off frees us to a new life. A new way of being. A way of being that causes us to see the masks around us and remove them. Jesus gives us the ability to name the masks and remove the mask of the powers that build up idols that seek to destroy.

Jesus gives us the power unmask and say to those in power – neglecting the children of Indiana because of your own personal ambitions is wrong.

Jesus gives us the power to unmask and say that racism is still as prevalent today as it was 50 years ago. It just puts on new masks. Jesus gives us the power to says the criminal justice system penalizes persons of color at an exponentially higher rate than those who are white. Jesus, unmasking us, gives us the power to unmask.

When Jesus unmasks us our loyalties shift. We see the world as the Lord’s and that is there in. Our loyalties shift to the Kingdom of God and not the Kingdom of constitution or dogma. Our loyalties shift and we can only serve one Ruler. The ruler in whose image we are created. It causes us to ask – whose image to we see?

When Jesus unmasks us – it is scary because we are afraid of what we will see. Our masks are so pretty and protective. But the raw beauty of the divine – when we see that reflection it is transforming. It is rejuvenating. It is earth shattering. It is ground breaking. It is life giving.

When we see our selves as reflections of the Divine, we can do no other than to name the divine in the people around us. Friend or Foe. When we are unmasked, and see ourselves are reflections of the Divine, it is easy to pray for our persecutors and those who hate us – because we can see in even them, the image of the Divine. When we see ourselves as reflections of the Divine, our hearts should break when we see anyone being treated as less than human because of their immigration status, their race, the health history, their age, they income. Our hearts should break and our voices cry out – it is unfair because you, too, are in God’s image.

When Jesus unmasks us, we are freed to love in a way that pulls us out of hiding and into the very presence of God. When our masks are gone and we truly love, agape love, we, unlike Moses see the face of God. We will come away as something new and beautifully different. Having see the face of God in our friend and our foe, we see God’s face in us.

Thanks be to God.


The Rejected Stone

Matthew 21:33-46
5 October, 2015

Click here for audio.

The Rejected Stone

This week’s Gospel reading picks up immediately after the story from last week. If you were not here – last week on In Jerusalem with Jesus we heard about the man who came to town riding on the back of a donkey, who was mocked by the ministers and adored by the people. He was given the royal welcome into the City of David. We watched as this back water hillbilly preacher came into the temple and released all the animals, turned over the tables and just made a general mess of things. He riled up the crowds, sent waves of anxiety through the elite, and even caused the roman governor to pay attention. Jesus said that God’s house is a house of prayer for all people and not a currency exchange where people are charged ridiculous rates to pay their bills.

We watched as a vibrant and food producing fig tree was cursed and rotted from the inside out. We listened as the leaders challenged Jesus’ authority only to become the objects of the lessons. We sat transfixed as Jesus told the story of two sons. About how one refused to work in his dad’s vineyard and yet eventually found joy in the job; and the other, the yes man, said he would but was distracted by other things. We learned that there is work to do and we are invited into the Reign of God – into the vineyard. And when we show up there is great joy in our labors.

And the elite rumbled that is makes no sense at all.

Join us this week as we Join Jesus in Jerusalem. Lets hear about how he continues the conversation.

Still shaking his head as the leaders pretend to hear, he beings telling them the story of a vineyard owners who leased his land to people who would by by returning to him a portion of the produce. This a common thing to do in those days. Those who could afford property often lived elsewhere and hired tenants to farm the land and till the soil – in return the tenants would be able to live of the profits of the land after they gave to the landlord his rent.

“Well,” Jesus said, “The time came for rent to be paid so the owner sent his servants to collect for him. But when they told the tenants it was time to pay up they were beaten, killed, and stoned. As you can guess, when the landlord heard about this he sent more prophets….i mean servants to collect and the tenants did the same thing. Distraught, the owner was at his wits end. Finally he decided to send his son to collect the rent. When the tenants saw that the son was sent, they conspired to kill him because according to the law, if there were no descendants, when pops died the land was theirs. So the killed the lad.

“Now, what do you suppose the owed would do with these tenants?”

Sensing a trick question, but not sure how to answer they thought and finally responded – with puffed out pride. “He will kills the miserable jerks and then give the land to people who will pay.”

Looking at them seeing they don’t get it…yet again he goes on, “Haven’t you read or even prayed the psalm that says, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; This is the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing!’

“Listen to me, the Reign of God is going to be taken away from you because you continue to reject it. It has been put in front of you and you beat it up, you kill it, you stone it. You keep throwing out the stones. The Reign of God is going to be taken away from you and given to those who know how to produce good fruits. Go ahead and keep throwing the stones out because when they land on you you will be crushed. Something new and beautiful is happening.”

Well, as you can guess this displeased the elite and so they – not getting the clue – wanted to arrest him though as of yet, the knew not how.

****

The parable we heard today is commonly called the parable of the wicked tenants. If you look in your Bibles that is probably what is called in the heading above this lesson. While that title is certainly appropriate, it has been read very often as a parable to be used against the Jewish people – it has been used as justification for centuries of anti-semitic actions. What has been missed is that it is an indictment against the powers that be; a rejection of a status quo that is complicit in denying that accessibility of the Reign of God. This parable is in truth a parable that speaks to a new beginning that Jesus is ushering in and that is unable to be seen by the people in power. This is why for today, I would like to reframe this from the parable of the wicked tenants into the parable of the cast out stone.

By reframing the story in this view we are able to see what it is Jesus is talking about, and move the main actors of the story from the wicked tenants to the true main character, God. So often, we get lost in the minutiae of parables we miss the over all story. We get so focused on who this is to be or who that is to be; what was meant by this or that that we miss seeing that the meat of the parables is what God is doing.

And holding on to things is what this parable is about. The tenants wanted to hold on to the property they were in charge of. And in the reality of the time, this could possibly be justified. When Rome took over the Levant they brought with them their economic system and the result of those economic systems ensured that those with money and power continued to benefit, even if it meant wiping out the middle class land owners. They would go in and buy land and less than market rate and truly put the previous farmers into debts, and even slavery. They would have to farm the land that was theirs as slaves and not owners and not be able to survive without benevolence of the new owners. So when one would be freed from their debt, knowing only how to farm they became essentially share croppers, so when these tenants saw a way to get their land back, they took the opportunity. They had lived lives of being rejected and they were sick of it. They wanted to hang on to what they had with their last ounce of strength.

The same thing was going on with the temple leaders of the time. When Rome came in they set up governors and installed leaders – who came from the the people, but who were also beholden to Rome. Their job was to keep the residents relatively at peace. As long as they did that they would enjoy a certain amount of autonomy. But when the radical rabbi from Galilee started making waves around the rest of the country, they knew they had to do something to maintain their power and privilege. They, just were unsure what to do, but if they did nothing their power would be gone They would be just as rejected as the rest of the population. They were hanging on with their last ounce of strength.

And in an economic time when it seems that the rich get richer and poor get poorer. When it is a daily struggle to decide whether to eat or pay the water bill; when the system is gamed in such a way that when one is receiving help from the government, if they try to do the right thing and get a job they will loose all benefits, never mind that the job doesn’t pay a wage that will pay rent. We are in an economic time when the middle class slipping away and the demographics around us are shifting in a way that causes confusion and unbalance.

We watch helplessly as our neighborhoods become war zones and our schools places of social work rather than havens of education. We stand at the sidelines sickened as the specter of war again raises its ugly head.

At work, at school, at church we feel our grips of power slipping as the people in power steal from us the bit of dignity we have. We watch as loved one are taken from us, either because they have no papers, or because they are trapped in a prison pipeline that punishes even after the time is served – unable to get work or imprisoned by immoral parole procedures. We begin to hold on with all of our strength to what we can.

There is comfort in that. There is security in holding on. We turn inward and do not see the envoys being sent to us. We miss seeing the needs around out and have forgotten to tend the vineyard. It has begun to return to dust. We don’t see the brokenness our our midst because of our own brokenness. We don’t see the faith community as servants coming to share the wealth; we don’t see the elders and new ones in our midst as promises of light and life; we miss seeing the Son, some to give something new. We don’t see the Son coming to give us our inheritance, instead we stand demanding it. And throw out the stone. Through our rejection we are holding on to everything the best we can.

But what happens when we loosen our grip. When we, instead of being the ones to cast the stones out – instead of trying to be the ones in control, relinquish the control. What happens when we give ourselves over to the one who takes the rejected and turns them into the cornerstone? What happens when we shift our point of view and name our pain. Name our hurt. Name our brokenness. Name our complacency in the face of the hurt arounds. When we hold up a mirror and see our own rejection in the rejection we have caused others? What happens?

What happens when we confess that we have rejected those who don’t conform to a self-constructed norm that we build up to keep ourselves safe. That we erect to keep our power and privilege? When we name the walls we have build to keep people out, when we revisit rules we have instituted that maintain an order we need to keep power. An order we don’t think needs to be disturbed because it was worked in the past.

What happens when we confess that we are afraid to let go and embrace the fact that something new is happening, that the world is rapidly changing, that fear and distrust have replace the love that is command of us? What happens when we confess that we have been clinging to teaching that has turned inward and leaves no room for ambiguity and fresh breath?

What happens when we begin to see that all of this happens because we are afraid of our own rejection? Because at onetime or another we have all been rejected.

We have been the cast aside stone. We have been told we don’t belong and we don’t want to experience that feeling again.

You have been rejected because we are in a same sex relationship that there is no place for us in this community. You have been rejected because we believe that science is a valid expression of God’s creative activity in the world and that evolution actually makes sense. You have been rejected because you are African-American – especially because you are an young Black male and you have been told that your life doesn’t matter because you are automatically considered a criminal beyond saving.

You have been rejected because you are too old or too immobile to be considered an active and vital member of society. You are too frail to be a worthy part of community. You have been told you are too young or too new to the faith to have anything to offer.

We have been sold a bill of goods that being cycles of greed and fear that don’t allow us to see that there is something happening here. We try to hold on. But when we open ourselves up and confess our brokenness and our dejectedness, something happens.

God takes that rejection and brokenness and fits it into the puzzle. God takes that rejected stone and makes it the cornerstone of some then new and more grand that what was there. God takes that rejected stone and uses it to build a new and vital and vibrant community.God takes that rejection and takes the dust and broken pieces and forms a community of life. God takes that new thing and breaths into it the breath of life. God takes that brokenness and rejection and transforms it into something stronger that the pain form which it was hewn.

God creates something bolder than any doctrine of exclusion; than any dogma of domination. God creates a community. God takes that rejected stone and creates a community that are the new tenants of the vineyard. That are a body that give thanks and sees where God is in their midst. That gives of their time and talent and treasure to further the new thing God is doing. God builds something new that can not be torn down.

We the rejected ones are open to God’s transforming power God will make something new. Rebuild and Restore. God will not the rejected go to waste, instead God uses our brokenness as the very cornerstone. God gives the solid foundation because God was rejected. God knows what it is like to be rejected. God knows the brokenness that causes us to hold on with all the strength we have. God was cast aside. God was thrown on the scrap heap of the hill that ended on a cross. But God took that rejection and turned int into a shout in a cemetery. A shout that echoes through new thing God has created. A shout of life that echoes though the halls of this place. A shout that says, rejected stone. You are mine and the rejection that you feel is over. You are now the new cornerstone in this new creation.

So friends, we have nothing to fear. We are given life. We are given the chance to be the cornerstone of God’s new creation. Let us give God our thanks. Let us give God our praise. Let us rejoice as those who have been born anew.

Thanks be to God!


It Makes No Sense at All, sermon 9/28/14

Matthew 21:23-32.
28 September, 2014

Audio link here.

It Makes No Sense at All

It makes no sense at all! None. Nadda. Zip.

Jesus comes into town ridding on the back of a donkey. At first he is mocked and ridiculed by the powerful elite – both the temple leaders and the roman empire. This backwater teacher who has been riling people up up north has made his way to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, and he tries to make a scene, but he is on a donkey. He is ridiculous looking. They have seen him on the outskirts of town beginning the ride, but as he makes his way to the city walls something in their passive perception shifts and they notice that instead of jeering and mocking crowds gathered – people are waving palm branches. An act intended for royalty. They are shouting ‘Hosannah in the Highest!’ they seem to be welcoming their messiah. Their warrior king riding victorious on his steed. They are seeing something the leaders can not see. Their future is opened before them.

It makes no sense at all!

The rabbi makes his way into the city, through the heart of the city. The chief priests and elders ware watching form their perch at the pinnacle of the temple. The legion of Pilate in town for the festivities anxiously watch as the what could be the roots of rebellion begin to stir. Jesus makes his way to the temple.

The noon day sun was shinning and illuminating the golden edifice of the Holy Mount. The smoke form the altar was rising above the temple giving up an odor pleasing to the lord and looking like the cloud that lead their forbears through the wilderness into this – their promised land. The cacophonous jazz of animals, ceremonial music, thousands of people in many languages, sang to the power of the God who was being remembered this week as preparations were being made for Pesach.

Followed by the multitudes, Jesus stepped off the donkey and made his way up the stairs – the same stairs his parents found him on all those years ago when they had come to celebrate this very feast of remembrance. He walked with the stride of a man coming home after a much too long absence. He walked like a son returning home to his Father, as he ascended the stairs with each step the pace quickened. Longing to be in the Holy Place, he began sprinting through the Hulldah Gate into the Court of the Gentiles. There he was greeted by the familiar scene of booths and tents selling animals for sacrifice.

This was a common and long held tradition, but what had happened over time was that instead of providing goods at a fair price – theses salespeople knew they had a monopoly and began to gouge their prices. What was intended as a way for the poor to buy necessary sacrifice had become a money making scheme and the chief priests and elders were of course getting their cut. The poor were being denied their sacrifice because of the love of money. This scene drove the peaceful rabbi, Jesus, to begin to turn over the tables. To release the birds in the cages, and give the animal to the people. This scene of oppression could not be tolerated in the Temple. If they had been selling at a fair price and not scamming, I am sure Jesus would not have been upset – for by being fair all would be able to worship God.

Of course the tearing apart of the temple was witnessed by the chief priests and elders. And they made their way to the to the court of the gentiles. They found the man from Galilee and began to scream at him as he was healing those who came to him. The hurting. The sick. The broken. The oppressed. They saw him and saw the future was wide open.

It makes no sense at all.

After all who needed were healed, Jesus got up and left the temple. Knowing there were daggers being stared into his back as he left. That night he went to Bethany. Slept like a son come home. The future was wide open.

The next day, he and the twelve – followed by those who left the temple with him – made their way back to Jerusalem. He passed a fig tree and cursed it and it withered and died. The disciples were astounded. He had the power to control nature, they knew, but now he had authority. They knew that there was a meaning to this. But it wasn’t clear – but Jesus knew that he those who carry themselves with grander and elegance can just as easily be dead and withered on the inside. Their future was stunted.

Into the temple they went again, this time they made it no further than the gates when who appeared but the chief priest and his friends. They saw the scene yesterday and were not about to let him agitate the people again. Pilate had heard about the shenanigans at the temple yesterday and had sent an envoy to let them know in no uncertain terms that he could easily put an end to this festive, and thusly, put an end to their profits.

The chief priests and elders began to question Jesus about the authority under which he acted, and he, in good rabbinic tradition answered with a question. Knowing that John was acting under the authority of God, he wondered if they would admit it – he knew they knew. But fearing loosing their own authority, and handing it over to Jesus, and fearing that if they said that John was acting on his own there would be a riot – they answered with an assured, “We don’t know.”

“Then I am not going to tell you by whose authority I act,” Jesus said. “But hear this parable and tell me what you think. There was a man with two boys. To the first one he said ‘Go work in the vineyard for me.’ ‘Dad, No,’ said the first one, but later he went and did his work. The dad said to the second son, ‘Please go do some work in the vineyard.’ And this son said, ‘I go, Lord.’ But he did not go. Now, which one of the boys did the work of their father?”

Looking at him like he was an idiot, they said, “Duh! The first one.”

With his sideways smirk that told the disciples that he knew they did not get it, “Amen, you are right. And so it is in the Kingdom of God, the tax collectors and prostitutes will be there before you. If you didn’t listen to John who came in justice and holiness – and you didn’t believe him (and you know whose authority he was under) – and the tax collectors and prostitutes did listen and believe and their lives were changed; you saw all of this and you still didn’t believe.”

They all looked at each other and the leaders grumbled, “It makes no sense at all.”

***

Like the second son, the leaders, who from their perches of power showed all the outward signs of devotion; leaders who glowed with their polished piety; who knew all the verses by heart; who not only offered sacred scarifies, but were the ones to do the sacrifice – these leaders were always saying – I go, Lord. They would paint the proper image so all the people would know they were the ones whom the Lord favored.

But when it came time to actually do the work – the work on behalf of the father, and not necessarily work that would profit them, they had better things to do. If they had to get their hands dirty, the disappeared.

We don’t know where they went. We just know that the job was left undone. Perhaps, after being filled up at church on Sunday they got their dose of the Holy and didn’t need more. The weekly routine was complete and the ritual met. They were fed for the moment, and that is what was needed. We don’t know.

We do know that they couldn’t see what Jesus was seeing. That, like the prophets before him, God really wasn’t interested in all the polished piety or skillful sacrifice. God was seeking workers who could see what God sees. Their long term view is askew. They can not see the future God has set before them.

The first son, the one who says he won’t go and work, but later goes to the vineyard, begins doing the work of the Kingdom of God. Again, we don’t know why he said no initially.

Maybe he as angry at the father? Maybe the father had let him down one too many times. Maybe the father had take all of his friends and peers away from him. Maybe the son had his own family to take care of and was too busy trying to survive to acknowledge the work that the father has set before him. Maybe this son was trapped in a cycle of violence where if he showed allegiance to his father’s gang and rival gang would try to take him out. Maybe he was sick. Maybe he had been let down one too many times; maybe he had been working in the vineyard with of the father before only to have been beaten down and ignored – told that his methods were not the way it has been done in the past. Maybe this son wanted to work for the father but was scared off by other workers.

We don’t know why he chose tell the father no. But we do know that he ended up working, and I want to believe it is because he could see the long story. He saw the future that working in the vineyard would give. A future that was wide open, and the father’s blessing – his inheritance.

I know many times I have found myself on either side of this story. Saying yes, and not doing; saying no, and going to work. This is the beauty of this passage. This is one of the main points of Matthew’s gospel. We are called to work in the vineyard. The future is open and the future is ours. Through Christ, God has given us the opportunity to be co-workers in the vineyard.

And the future is ours. The future is open – and that makes no sense at all.

Jesus comes to town on a donkey and the people see the future that God is bringing to Jerusalem. The future where the powerful are laid low and the low are lifted high. The king comes on a donkey. The powerful see what is – the poor see what could be – what will be. The future is open – for the powerful and the poor.

Jesus turns the tables in the temple and the people see the release of the captives; the shame of debt and inequality are abolished. This is the future in which all debts are paid and no one is held in bondage by anyone else. This is the future of liberation. And yet the powerful see their profits disappearing. They see their corporation crumbling. They see their own power being knocked over. They see the world as something the need to fight to hold on to; and the poor see the world as God intends – an upsides down empire. The future is ope to the powerful and the poor.

Jesus heals the untouchable. Kisses the lame. Hugs the leper. Embraces the elderly. Blesses the children, there in the presence of the Holy of Holies. Jesus reaches out the outcast and brings them into the Kingdom of God. But what the world sees, what the powerful see is a man who is humanizing the immigrant; they see a man who is giving voice to the voiceless telling them they are something when the powerful demand they are nothing. What they see is people beginning to see themselves as the image of the Divine that they are. They are seeing their world crumble and God’s world rise. The future is open to the powerful and the poor.

Jesus curses the fig tree – showing the world how the majestic, in the blink of an eye, can fall and crumble – how the institutions of power and oppression will eventually rot from the inside out. How a government that reaps profits from prisons – prisons that are guaranteed an 80% fill rate; will crumble from the inside because hope is extinguished. Families are destroyed. People are thrown in jail because they can’t afford their parole officer; profits determine law and people are ignored. The future is open for the powerful and the poor.

Jesus acts on the authority of the one who is the planter of the vineyard and has called us all to be workers. To be workers for equality. To be workers for justice. To be workers for the Reign of God. Jesus acts on the authority of the one who waters the vineyard in the life-giving waters of baptism and is giving a place for each of us to work. The future is open to the powerful and the poor.

God’s vision of the future is not one one either/ors, but both/ands. God’s vision of the future makes no sense at all because God calls us all to the table. God calls us, and we may go willingly right away; we may say no and show up later. God calls us all – even those who say yes and don’t show up. The call to work is not taken away. The future is open to us. God’s future is open.

A future that makes its mark on the present. Jesus shows what the future looks like. Jesus paints the picture. Our job is to continue with the work. Showing the world that in God’s future radical hospitality is the way – that at God’s table all are welcome. It doesn’t matter if you are here without documentation; it doesn’t matter if you are gravely ill; it doesn’t matter if you are the CEO or if you are struggling to find a place to live; it doesn’t matter if the world tells you are what we aspire to be; it doesn’t matter if the world keeps beating you down; it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor; it doesn’t matter because God’s vision of the future is the future that welcomes all to the table. And it makes no sense at all.

God’s future welcomes all to be workers in the vineyard. It says come to work when you are ready, because this is yours. This is your inheritance. This life is a gift that is yours and I will keep inviting you to work. Because in God’s vineyard there is grace. There is peace. There is love. And it makes no sense at all.

Thanks be to God


Sermon from 9/21/16 – Beloved, Local #2016

Matthew 20:1-16
Note: This is the first time I have done a first person sermon. It was quite fun. The setting was a Union Meeting, there were union signs around the sanctuary.  The audio link is here.)

Beloved, Local #2016

Thank you, Mr. President for allowing me to come and speak this morning.

Sisters and brother, Mr. Mattthews, our union president invited me to come and speak to you this morning about organizing a new union. As you know we were previously proud employees of the Corporate State of Mammon, Number 1 and affiliated with the United Workers of the Empire (UWE). We fought for and won many battles to make sure that we were paid more than anyone else. We fought and won battles that insured that we were seen as the standard bearers of the Empire work ethic. What was our was our and nobody was going to take it away. We lived and breathed the motto “What’s best for Me is best for US.” Though we worked together – we did not work with each other.

As a Mammon local we were fighting for our survival not only as a part of the Empire, but as fighting for a way of life that that insured that a certain status quo was maintained. The leaders of the UWE kept reminding us that we had a place in the system that was important, we were the cogs in the machine that kept the Empire rolling along. We were told not to question the ethics of the leaders because they knew best. We were told watch your back because there is always someone trying to climb to the top using you as a step. We were told that we were beholden to Mammon because it was what made the world go round. We were told that in order to keep the machine going we needed to keep focused on our own business and not worry about the business of the others.

You remember who the others were, right? The others were those workers who refused to be at the pick-up corner at dawn. That wasted their times playing with their families. That would rather be outside the auspices of the UWE. We were told they were the creatives who spent their days with their heads in the clouds rather than being contributing members of the Local. We were told they were the ones who had turned their backs on the UWE by daring to be in relationships that were focused on each other than for the benefit of the Empire. We were told the others were the ones too old or too sick to work, too young to offer meaningful suggestions, too differently abled to be helpful. We were told that we were important because we were what made the nation run.

But something happened this spring that Mr. Matthews and I agree should change the shape of our Union. It happened to me and that is why he asked me here this morning. This thing that happened shifted how I understood my role as a worker and how I understood the Union. What happened to me showed me that everyone is deserving of of Loving Wage. Everyone is able to be a part of the Union regardless of their ability, and most importantly it showed me we should no longer be part of the United Workers of the Empire – no longer cogs in the Corporate State of Mammon, but rather we should change our affiliation to this new organization called Beloved Community United (BCU) and we should organize as Beloved, Local #2016 where the last are first and the first are last – but we are all here.

***
So this thing that happened. It happened back in Early May.

We were there at the corner waiting for someone to hire us. Up drives this nice truck. I mean it was sharp. Clean. Freshly waxed. It had tools in the box, ladders on the side. It looked too legit to be there to pick up us day laborers. Some of the guys disappeared thinking it was probably an ICE (Immigration and Customs) raid. It looked like a fed coming to bust some of the workers, but out stepped this sharp dressed man.

He told us he was the owner of this new vineyard that was being planted on the outskirts of town – along the White River by old US 37, south of the city. None of us had ever done that kind of work, but he said he would hire us and tell us what to do. He offered us a fair wage – about $20/hr for a full days work. Man, those of us who were not afraid of ICE were ready to jump – nobody pays that much. Usually they just say a flat rate for the day that is close to minimum wage levels.

So he picked up a bout 2 dozen of us, this was going to be a big job, the sun was barely up an he was taking about half of the people gathered. We told him we were UWE and that if he didn’t pay us what he agreed to – there would be repercussions. I flashed the piece I always carried just to make sure he got the point. We shook on it and hoped in the truck and the car that we didn’t see earlier.

When we got to the vineyard, it was an area of open farm land right along the river. We were going to be out in the sun all day, and the bugs – the mosquitos were already out. It told the man to make sure we had plenty of water – it was going to be hot.

So he laid out what we were to be going, some of us were to be tiling the land, they had the joy of sitting ont he tractors that tore into the soil. Those of us with out the driving skill were showed a stack of lumber and told that trellises were supposed to be built. We had to dig post-holes and secure the cross bracing so that then new vines would have secure places to grow. Even with 2 dozen of us, this was going to be a good several weeks of work. It was good news. This new vineyard was the place to be.

About 8:30 the boss come to the field and drops off some food for us, the most delicious bread I have ever tasted. Something about it totally revived me. And the water in the cooler, was, I don’t know, there was something about it. And it seemed, even as the sun began to bake down that the cooler didn’t empty. It couldn’t see where the water line was, but there had to be something feeding it. He told us we could take a break and when we were ready, we could get back to work.

Just as were we about to get back to work the truck arrives with some more of the people from the corner. Needless to say, some of us started to mumble and rumble. This was his plan, to keep adding workers until the work is done as quick as possible. A job we thought would take a few weeks was now being reduced to a few days.

More tractors tilled and more post holes were dug.

Noon rolled around and the boss brought out lunch for us. That never happened. This guy must have had money to throw away, because he had the most amazing tuna salad sandwiches. He also brought out smoked salmon and this nice french bread. We were eating like kings, and he kept telling us that we cold have as much as we wanted. The platters were always full.

But then it happened, he had to have been buying us off because another truck load of laborers showed up. I was beginning to see what was happening. He wanted to keep the workers fresh so they worked fast. He might be paying well, but if he could finish the work in a day it would be worth it because he could begin the planting and maybe have have a harvest by the late fall. He was going to profit by exploiting us.

I called the Local office and talked with Mr. Matthews. He told me to keep an eye out for this boss man. He told me to see if my thoughts were correct, and if they were, tonight to give him a call and we would be there in the morning ready to picket and fight. We would sully his name with other workers, so only the “others” would be there to work for him and he would get nothing done.

I threw my food away and went back into the field, angry at this deception. I thought I would be able to feed the family for the summer with these few weeks work, and now I might be able to grocery shopping once.

Fuming those of us in the first shift kept working – the new guys dared to stop and eat lunch first.

We kept working and then at three, more came. I got those of us in the first and second waves of workers to slow down. If he was going to keep refreshing the workers, we would slow work so at least we might be able to come back tomorrow.

Finally the sun was beginning to arch past the hottest of the day and the boss’s son came and brought us some dinner. He even ate with us. But he didn’t sit at the table with us, but rather sat off to the side waiting to be invited to the table. That wasn’t going to happen, I don’t care how good the food was, he and his dad kept cutting our hours.

As were were finishing eating we saw the truck pull up. The son had told us we had one more hour of work today, the land was tilled and the trellises were up. We just had clean up to do and we would be done with the job.

Out of the truck come more workers.

What was the point? Why was the boss bringing people when were were cleaning up? I called Mr. Matthews and told him to rally the troops. We would be marching tomorrow.

We finished cleaning up the work tools and put things back where they beloved.

The what would have been weeks of work were over and now it was time to get our day’s pay. Our one day’s pay. The boss call all of us workers under the lunch canopy gave us towels to wash our selves down with, and let me say, when that water from the towel washed over my face – it felt like I was getting a new life. It was just as refreshing as the water from the cooler that never seemed to empty. Anyway, the boss called us over under the canopy and began to pay out.

Now instead of paying those of us who were there the longest first – he began paying the guys that were only there for an hour. I really didn’t know why he wasted his time to go all the way to town to get them and drive all the way back here just to give them an hours wage – but you see, when he paid them, he gave them what we agreed to – and not just the hourly rate but the whole day’s worth.

I could feel my cheeks beginning to burn, either something really good was going to happen – or we were going to get shorted something fierce. I had a feeling we were going to get shorted, and lo and behold – what happened? The three o’clock workers got the same, then the noon, then the nine, and then us. WE ALL GOT PAID THE SAME! This is outrageous.

“Hey, Boss Man,” I said, “that ain’t how it works here in the Corporate State of Mammon. You better get ready because UWE is gonna be coming after you. It isn’t fair that you are paying these lazy bums the same as us who was working out in the heat all day. You agreed to pay us fair, and now you are paying them the same as us. That ain’t right.”

Then it happened, the boss looked at me and just with him looking at my it felt like I was kicked in the chest. I lost my breath and I had to sit down. He looked at me, and he wasn’t angry. No, you see, when I have stood up to bosses in the past they would usually either drop and run or start stammering and pay what was due. But not this time. Not today. No. This time the boss just turned and looked at me, and it looked like he was about to cry. And it wasn’t a scared cry, but sad. Like that look your kid gets when she hears that her grandma can’t make it for dinner or like when you lost your dog. It was heartbreak in his eyes.

“‘Friend,” He called me his friend, “I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?” Then his tone changed a little bit, it was almost like he was giving me an ultimatum, but there was something in his words that kept me there. “Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

I just stood there looking at him. I didn’t know what to say. But as I sat there the whole day flashed before my eyes. I started the day with no work. I got work. I was give work that fit my skills. I was given water when he didn’t need to give water. I was given lunch when I didn’t ever get lunch from there jobs. The water was always there. The bread was always there. Every time more people came there was enough work for them. I looked out at the vineyard, and then it really hit me. I had been so focused on all my work that what I thought I was getting done was enough, but when I looked at the vineyard at the end of the day, there was still so much work to do. We would have had 100 more people there working and the still would be work to do.

The boss gave me work when I didn’t have none and then instead of leaving me to do it all myself kept bringing help. The boss kept bringing help because there was work to be done. Hard, hot, dirty work, but it never got tiring because the boss kept watching after us. And at the end of the day we all went home with not only a living wage – but a loving wage.

The last got paid first – but we all got paid. And we all were part of the boss’s work force, and to this day – everyday I am going to the vineyard to work.

So, you see, This boss needs workers and needs them organized. And that is why Mr. Matthews asked me to speak to you. To tell you about this new way of organizing. As Beloved, Local #2016. Where we rally together to make sure everyone – regardless of their ability is guaranteed a living and a loving wage. Where acceptance and grace are more important that skills and know how – that stuff comes when we work with each other. In Beloved, Local 2106 we lift up the young and teach them and raise them to learn how to work in the vineyard, and we care for the old who have been working in the filed longer than we have been alive. We make sure everyone gets the care they need regardless if they have “earned” it or not. If they are sick, we help. If they are hopeless, we give hope. If they are angry, we sit with. If they are sad, we walk beside.

In Beloved, Local # 2016 we, too paraphrase my hero – Tom Joan – we say:

Whenever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, we’ll be there. Whenever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, we’ll be there..we’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build – why, we’ll be there.

We’ll be there, because in Beloved Community United we have learnd what it is like when the first are last and the last are first – because we have all been there at one point or another and at the end of the day – no matter what we got our loving wage.

Thank you very much, and have a good afternoon.

Union Meeting


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.


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