Sermon: Pulling the Thread

Pulling the ThreadMark 13:1-8

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[Intro: Sermon Title change]

Let us Pray…

There is a thread loose. Don’t how how it got loose, but there is a thread loose. It is minuscule, but it is hanging there. A speed bump on the smoothness of the material. It dances when the breeze breathes across it. Waving as the dust mites dance in the ray of the shining sun. the is a thread loose. 

This loose thread started at the first breath of creation. It is wound from the bark of the tree of life. Generation after generation adding to its story. Winding itself on the spinning wheel of the cosmos; as this piece is woven the thread is attached to the shuttle of time and passed over and under the warp of history. It weaves the fist row as the first ones walk through the garden; adding each successive row with each generation. The warp and weft of the material grows heavy as the weight of history begins to leave its mark. Frayed edges; places where neglect skipped a thread; the dinginess of the manufacturing floor; this veil is hung in the high place of the temple. This garment of history is hung between the dwelling place of God and of God’s creation. And there is a thread loose.

I am going to confess that this is not the sermon I was planning on preaching. Once again we are coming face to face with he evil that is in our world. The words of Jesus this morning can not be more appropriate for today, can they?

Every where we turn it seems all that we can see is death and destruction. We see hurting and pain. It is enough to make on sick. And I am sick. I am sick and tired of having to preach these kinds of sermons. I am tired of seeing hate on my Facebook news feed. I am tired of having to shield my daughter’s eyes from the television. I am tired of hearing people spew hatred to an entire religion because of the actions of madmen. I am tired of it. 

I want to be one of those disciples who ask Jesus to tell me when it will all be over. When will the killing end. When will the death end. When will the hatred end. I want to pin him to a wall and make him give me a straight answer. I am sick to death of all of it. Enough is enough.

And then I think about a loose thread.

And soon as that thought appears it is gone. Consumed again by rage. Jesus answers his disciples telling them that there will be many who claim to know the answer saying, “I am he.” He tells the that there will be politicians who claim to be the messiah in the bellicose blathering. They will claim to speak for him when they advocate killing and war. They say they speak for him when the ignore the plight of the refugee and immigrant – in fact they will use them as pawns in their political maneuvering.

The thread is loose.

Jesus warns of wars and rumors of wars. He speaks of terror attacks in Paris leaving hundreds dead. He speaks of bombs in Beirut that will level the cedars of Lebanon – 40 dead and 200 hundred injured. A Baghdad funeral leaves more dead. 

Jesus must be getting tickled by the loose thread because he says that these things must take place. The end is yet to come. What is the end, Jesus? When will all this end? We just wanna know.

There will be more destruction. A heroin addict overdosed 3 blocks form the Church Thursday night, and instead of concern for the person there was the mantra of – one more out of the hood. There was a man murdered by arson 8 blocks away, a man without a home and in the wrong place at the wrong time. 
Nation will rise up against nation, Jesus says. 

There will be earthquakes and famines, Jesus says. 

The thread is loose.

It all makes me want to pull the thread and let it all come falling down. I just want to rip the seam and let all of the horrible happen and just be done with it. 
The thread is loose. Then Jesus says something else. He opens his mouth again, Listening to him – what else can it be? What else is left?

“This is but but the beginning of the birth pangs.” And in 48 hours he, too, is dead. It is the end. 

I stand there looking at his outstretched arms. Nailed to wooden beams. I see him there. And waving in the breeze stuck in the crown upon his head I see a thread. Dancing in the breath of the breeze. 

I hear a scream. The rain starts to pour. I run to that place of safety the temple and there I see it. I see the thread ripping tearing its way down the veil between the Dwelling Place of God and God’s creation. I see through the rip in the veil, as the tread zig-zags its way down, I see light breaking through. Light making its way into the darkness. In that light I see the silhouette of the cross. I see Jesus calling me to lay my weary head on the foot of the cross. I see on the cross all of the tears, I hear all of the cries. At the cross I see God, Fully God – die a fully human death. I see in Jesus, God taking upon God’s self all of it. All of the death. All of the destruction. All of the hate. 

I see myself in the face of Jesus. I see you in the face of Jesus. I see all of your pain. All of your fear. I see all of the darkness that you carry on the cross. And I hear Jesus. Jesus is calling out this is the beginning of new life. This is beginning of the birth pangs of a new creation.

The thread is loose. And in the light now busting through from the dwelling place of God into the place of God’s people I see an unveiling. I see the true glory of God – there on the the cross. I see hundreds of Parisians gathering on the night of a terrorist attack with a giant sign that says “Not Afraid.” I see Baghdadi’s getting married in the face of death. I see the might cedars of Lebanon laying the foundation of a new generation. 

I see the Hebrews dancing across the Red Sea. 

I see Sarah laughing.

I see Mary holing her belly knowing that this day would come.

I see Christians facing the lions.

I see Harriet Tubman conducting the underground railroad. 

I see children holding hand not caring what color they are.

There at the cross I see Christians and Muslims protecting each other as they pray and proclaiming Terrorism Has No Religion. At the cross I hear the words of theologian Fredrich Buechner echoing the words of the angels, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

This is but the beginning of the birth pangs of a new creation. The cross happens to prove that there is nothing to fear. Nothing our God will not do for us. Our God died for us, so that when the terrors come we would know that we are not alone – for even God understands terror. 

The loose thread finally fully unfurled reveals that even in death Our God comes out on the other side. Our God declared victory over the all of the forces that seek to destroy. That doesn’t mean they go away, or that we will never encounter them – no, it means that we don’t have to live in fear of them. We don’t have to live in fear of terrorists, because we know the promise of God. We don’t have to live in fear of the wars and rumors of wars, because we know that the prince of peace will triumph. We don’t have to live in fear of those who look different from us or believe different from us, because we serve a God who died on the cross for all of us. 

The thread is no longer loose, but has been ripped out revealing God’s new and glorious creation. Giving us hope. Giving us perseverance. Giving us the reminder that God’s love for us knows no bounds. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.

War can’t keep us from the love of God.

Terror can’t keep us from the love of God.

Addiction can’t keep us from the love of God.

Abuse can’t keep us from the love of God.

Death can’t even keep us from the love of God.

For in all these things we are more than conquerers. Nothing in all of creation can keep us from the love of God. This is the new creation.

Friends, Be not afraid. Trust in the love of God. Trust in that in the cross of Christ – all of the powers of death of destruction came to an end and no longer can control you. Be not afraid. Weep. Cry. Lament. Lean on the cross. But be not afraid. The thread is gone and the veil is torn. You are God’s.

Thanks be to God

Sermon: The Widow’s Might!

The Widow’s MightMark 12:38-44

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And now a reading from the JAT Version:

As Jesus taught the disciples and those gathered round he said to them, “Beware of the preachers with their toothy grins who walk around saying you will have the best live ever. Watch out for those who always want to sit at the Dias, who hound you form money to buy new planes, those who promise prosperity. They make their livings off the pensions of widows. Yes, they put on a good show, with their upbeat music and long winded prayers. Listen, they just don’t get it. They will receive greater condemnation.”

Then, taking those with him, he sat across from the temple treasury in the court of the women. He sat like a judge watching the crowd giver their offerings. Sure enough, the rich came by and threw their money into the places making lots of noise, so that everyone knew how much they were giving. 

Behind them all comes a widow. And Jesus watches as the put two coins – which equal about a penny – into the plate. You couldn’t ever hear it touch that sides. 

Then he called to his disciples and said to them, “Listen up. Pay attention. This poor widow has put in more than all of the rest. For they all gave a bit of what they had, but she – in her poverty – gave all she had. Everything. She has nothing else to live on.”

Let us pray….
The widow’s mite – m.i.t.e – is what this story is often called. It is another of the flannel graph favorites, right? I still see the white felt back ground with the golden interior of the temple in the middle. Jesus in his white robe with the blue sash sitting off to the side with the disciples. I see the potted palm trees. And I see the woman, humbly dropping her last two coins into what looks like a treasure box. How many of you remember either seeing something similar or even using the flannel graph to tell the story when you taught Sunday School? This is one of the few that I can still see vividly. This, Moses and the Red Sea; Daniel in the Lion’s Den; Sadhrach, Meshach, and Abendigo in the fiery furnace; The Christmas story; the man being let down through the hole in the roof; and the crucifixion. But I remember this story, too.

Partly I thing this story is so memorable because it has been used to tell us, or teach us, how to give sacrificially. It has been used as a tool to make me feel guilty when I didn’t give enough in church or Sunday School; now, I am not saying it was intentional because that is how this story has been used for many years. It is the epitome of the Stewardship sermon – If she can give all she has, why can’t you? Right? How many have experienced that? 

Now, sacrificial giving is important. Giving is important, that is how our ministries survive. That is what make them grow and allows us to the That Church on the Corner. We have been blessed by people who have known this and understood that offering our gifts is part of our call as disciples of Christ. They have given endowments to us that are allowing us to get through these lean times when we are not as big as we once were. Their giving is allowing us to do ministry. Your giving is keeping us open to the neighborhood. Your gifts are what keep the lights on for our art students who come through the doors every Tuesday. Your giving is what sustains the food pantry that feeds our neighbors. Your offerings are what allow our doors to be open seven days a week and allow us to be that church on the corner – open to all who need a place to come and rest from the chaos of the world. Your giving is what lets us be a beacon of God’s Reign, God’s Justice here on the east side. Our offerings, past, present, and future are being used to further the the Reign of God. 

All of that said, though, I don’t think this story is as much about the sacrifice as it is an indictment of the corruption of Government and church and in the end, and most importantly, I understand it to be a testimony of hope.

In our Wednesday morning Bible Study we have been leaning to read the Bible as a whole and in context. We have been working to take it out of isolation, and read the stories we encounter as part of a larger story. One of the reasons the story of the Widow’s mite has become so popular is because it has been read in isolation. As as story in and of itself. When, instead, it should be read as as story with the context of the Gospel of Mark and the Bible as a whole. If we do that, then our perspective of the situation shifts.

Mark is a manifesto of Radical Discipleship. Mark’s Gospel is the story of and for those at the bottom. Jesus is always among the crowds, and not the elite crowds. No Jesus is there with the sick, the destitute, the unclean, the outcast. Jesus, in this telling, is the embodiment of Radical commitment to God and the ways of God. This telling of God’s story from the bottom is in direct contrast the ways of the Greco/Roman order of shame and honor. In this Gospel the last are the first and the first are the last. The call to become a disciple is to empty ones self of that which keeps you from God, and to trust in the ways of God. We have seen this over the last few weeks when we encountered, first the rich man who could not let go of his possessions to follow Jesus, and later in contrast the poor blind beggar Bartimaeus who left all his possessions behind just to be near the healing hand of the Son of Man. 

Understanding that Mark has a message of radical discipleship, then we can begin to hear this story again – new, with fresh ears. 

Prior to this event at the temple, Jesus has had run ins with the church council. He has staged a protest by cleansing the temple of the money changers. He declared that the place of worship is not to be a bank that lends a high profit margins, but is to be a house of prayer for ALL PEOPLE. This challenge to the status quo signed his death warrant. How dare he say that all should have access to God, how dare he upset the status quo, how dare he challenge the church council and demand that the priestly class become like the mere rabble in the court of the gentiles.

On the steps of the temple his authority has been questioned. Surely a man of God would not have such hostility toward the temple. He refused to tell the church council because they refused to see.

He confounded them because he told them that people should pay their taxes to Caesar and to give to God what is God’s. He was angry that they sought test him with this kind of stupidity. 

Jesus defined radical discipleship by telling them that the first commandment is to Love God with one’s whole being and then to love neighbor. Doing those two simple things were what was required to be near the Reign of God. He blew past all of their legalism and rules. He opened wide the access to God and did not have time for their nonsense.

Finally he is with the crowd again, today, at the temple and he has had enough. He finally breaks it all down. He tells the crowd to watch out for these clowns. They are nothing but false teachers. They claim to be righteous. They are like the candidates running for office that say they are for the common person while they are accepting donations from billion dollar corporations. They are like the ones who claim to wear their religion on their sleeves all they while they make policies that demonize the poor, that cut assistance to the needy. They write laws that turn people into statistics instead of flesh and blood. They send drones to bomb villages in the hopes of killing a terrorist; all the while leaving hospitals in ruins. These priests in the temple are making money from their defrauding the widows. Demanding that in order to receive the right kind of care in their old age they sell all of their assets and become totally reliant on the government’s…i mean the priests’ benevolence.

Jesus is standing on the capitol steps calling the leaders of the land frauds. This is the context of today’s reading. This is the world in which this widow lives. She is the lowest of the low in the greco/roman society. She is totally dependent on the goodness of others. She is very example of who the offering is to be helping.

Notice, that Jesus does not praise the widow, he does not hold her up as a paragon of sacrificial giving, rather he names how she is being exploited by the very ones charged with caring for her. She has given everything she has to live on to the temple – the very institution responsible for her wellbeing per the very same scriptures the pharisees build stumbling blocks with. They are worried more about what is going on in peoples’ bedrooms or if they are eating the wrong kind of food. They were too busy talking about building up walls to keep people out; they were too preoccupied with keeping their status with their corporate benefactors. They were engaged in dropping bombs more than they were about feeding the hungry. They were busy preaching prosperity – siphoning more money from the poor; they wanted a new fancy Jet so they said it was God’s will that the widow help pay for it. Jesus sees what is going on and names it. And he is angry.

Sitting on the steps of the temple watching this happen, Jesus is seeing what Amos saw; what Isiah saw; what Jeremiah saw. Jesus is watching as the very ones he identified with were being used as pawns by the powerful. He witnessed the command to care for widow being broken right before his eyes. As a woman she wasn’t even obligated to make an offering. As a poor woman, even less so, and yet she did probably because if she didn’t her well being would have been ignored. You get what you pay for.

Even in the midst of this even, the widow shows her might. I picture her not sheepishly dropping her penny in the offering, but instead I see her proudly, strongly making her way to the box and preciously placing her coins in the plate. I see a woman with a weather worn face, small children at her ankles. I see a woman who knows what is happening – she knows she is being exploited. I see a woman seeing Jesus in the temple. A woman who like blind Bartimaeus gets it. She understands what this man has been preaching. What this Jesus has been proclaiming. I see a widow who has stepped into radical discipleship. I see a mighty widow doing what the rich young man couldn’t. And she is doing this not out of piety or necessity. She is doing this because she has hope in the promises of God. Her story isn’t a moral lesson to be learned or a stewardship sermon to be preached. Her story is a testimony of hope. It is a witness to the promise of God that she would be cared for – that she is worth more than the world says she is. 

The widow’s might comes when she steps into the line of Rahab, the prostitute who opened her doors to the spies of Joshua’s army. Who trusted in the promise that God would liberate and free her from her life of exploitation.

The widow’s might comes when she step into the story of Naomi giving of her self so that Ruth could find security and bear the son that would become the grandfather of David. 

The widow’s might came when she trusted in the promise made by Elijah to the widow of Zarephath that God would provide for her until the new rains fell and her garden would grow again. 

The widow’s might came from hearing the story of how the widowed mother of Peter’s wife was healed from the brink of death by the touch of Jesus; how a 12 year old girl took in a breath of new life; how a bleeding woman was healed by touching the hem of his garment. Her might came from trusting in the promise of God that the way of discipleship leads to the cross, but in that death will come new life. Her might came from watching as Jesus confronted the very people who failed to protect her; from hearing how in the Reign of God the last will be first and the first will be last.

The widow’s might came from trusting that with God she will never be alone. That with God comes the power to survive; the power to fight through another day; the promise of God is that you are never far from the Reign of God.

So, let that be the good news for you this day.Let this story of the mighty widow give you the power to step out from that which is seeking to hurt you. Let her faith in the promise of God give you the faith you need to take a risk in your journey as a believe. Speak out at school when you hear someone being bullied. Make noise when you you see someone being neglected. Take the risk to meet people you might have tried to avoid. Do not be like those on TV who say that I am righteous; no live like the one who is righteous. 

And I promise you, when you do, when you step out like the mighty widow – when you take the chance and embrace the story that is the story of salvation; when you trust in the Lord you will be freed to give fully into the reign of God. You will be able to say – you will be able to live in the words of the 146th Psalm:

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul. I will sing praise all my life long…happy are those whose hope is in the LORD their God who made heave and earth, the sea, and all that is in them;; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. 

The LORD sets the prisoners free; 

the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; 

the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down

The Lord loves the righteous

The Lord watches over the stranger; upholds the orphan and the mighty widow, and brings ruin to the wicked.

The Lord will reign forever, Your God, O Emerson Avenue Baptist Church, for all generations. Praise the Lord.

Thanks be to God

Sermon : Sacred Tears

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Sacred Tears

Revelation 21:1-6a, John 11:32-44
This morning we celebrate and remember the Feast of All Saints. This is one of the oldest Feast Days in the history of the Church. In the beginning the early church remembered the lives of the martyrs on the anniversary of their earthly deaths, however during the mass persecutions under Roman rule so many were martyred – assassinated anonymously that it was decided that there would be one day in which all of the saints who have died would be remembered. Honored. And this is why today we remember those saints in our lives who have ended their earthly lives and are now living in the promise of the waters of baptism. 

As Protestants, and more specifically Baptists, often the idea of saint is a difficult one for us to wrap our heads around. When we hear the word we often think of statues of St. Francis outside of homes, icons of the Holy Mother Mary. We don’t understand why some in the larger church pray to saints. This difficulty arises because we understand anyone in Christ to be saints. Don’t we? In our tradition we don’t have to be canonized or have investigations into our lives to determine that we are saints, but rather because we are in Christ we are already a saint. So as we celebrate and remember this day those who have gone before us, let us do so in the sure and certain promise that we are among them and they with us in the great cloud of witnesses.

Let us Pray….
Jesus wept. One of the most famous of all verses in the Bible. Mostly because it is the shortest and therefore the first one many kids learn when they are having memorization competitions…at least that is what I did. I needed to remember at least one. I wonder though if it is remembered so widely because it says something so deeply profound about Jesus that consciously or subconsciously it burrows itself into our beings. This is the lord of all, weeping. The son of God, with tears pouring down his cheeks. It doesn’t’ say Jesus wiped away a tear on his face. No it says, Jesus wept. I imagine it being a huge, snot bubble, gasping for breath cry. Not the macho man trying to keep his cool, but rather the soul shattering lament of a man whose heart is broken.
These tears, these sacred tears come about when he arrives at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus. We don’t know a whole lot about Lazarus, but we are told that they were close. The relationship between Lazarus, Mary, Martha, and Jesus had to have been an important one because there are two incidents recorded about their friendship in two separate Gospels. They are characters that appear in both Luke and John, something that doesn’t happen except for John the Baptist, Mary, Mary Magdalene, and the disciples. It seems only those intimately associated with Jesus are named let alone mentioned in multiple Gospels. 
Jesus had received word days earlier that his friend was ill. And instead of taking the quick way to Bethany he delayed his travels and eventually Lazarus died. Only the did he make his way to the home of his friends. 
On the dirt road entering the village Jesus is greeted with the ailing of Lazarus’ sister Mary. Like the father running to meet the prodigal son, Mary breaks through the crowds of mourners, through the throngs of family to meet her friend on the road. Falling to her face in the dirt she wraps her arms around the legs of Jesus. Looking at him, her tears turing the dust on her face into mudslides, she cries out, “Lord, you could have saved him. You loved him. If you would have come he would be still living.”
Reaching down to his friend, he helps her up, his heart ripping to shreds, he says nothing for along time. His mind is not thinking, but his heart is crying out – compassion, mercy, frustration, anger, all the emotions fighting each other like a whirlwind in his chest. His throat choking up. He whispers in her hear, trying to keep it together for her sake, “Where have you laid him?”
“Lord, come and see.”
With those words the sacred tears begin flow. He can not hold it in any longer. His tears mix with hers in their embrace. Each one holding the other up. Jesus weeps. Jesus weeps so deeply that those around him grow concerned. They have never seen him like this, even when the news of his cousin, John the Baptizer, death. Jesus is weeping, a soul shattering lament.
The witnesses to this whisper to themselves, “If he was going to react like this which didn’t he save him? He healed the blind. He could have kept him from dying.”
Jesus and Mary amidst their mourning make their way to the tomb, and Jesus feels the doubts and questions of the whispering witnesses. This weeping continues, now with he added emotion of disbelief. How could these people not allow him to grieve the death of his friend? Are not his tears just as healing as making Lazarus well? Are not tears a gateway to the Divine, though which we come into the presence of God? 
Greatly disturbed, still weeping, he tells them to move the stone and open the tomb. “Lord, he’s been dead for four days. His spirit is gone. He has begun to return to dust, his flesh is rotting, and the stench will be too much,” Lazarus’ other sister Martha says to Jesus. Afraid of what might happen, she tries to stop him. She can not see through her tears and into Jesus’ sacred tears.
She is trapped in her grief. He is gone. Lazarus is dead. Her brother will never again tell the slightly naughty jokes around the dining room table. Her brother will never hold the child she may one day have. Her brother will never again wake her in the morning with the cooking of the morning bread. He is gone Her grief is all she feels. True as the grief is, sincere as it is, through her tears that is all she is able to see – unable, yet, to see the sacred tears of the man next to her.
Our tears come in those times when the pain we have can find no other expression. The constant numbness in your legs, the ache in your knees, the kink in your backs. The diagnosis that this suffering will be will you the rest of your life. The tears come when the pain is too much. They are the rising of the pain seeking escape. Like the steam pulsating is way out of a pressure cooker, waiting for the final release. Seeking a resolution they cloud our sight. Leaving us wondering, searching, despairing. They wash over you.
They wash over you when depression and anxiety wrap around us like a boa constrictor squeezing life from its prey. Gasping for air, the light around you begins to fade. Spots of appear, the disappearing of hope. You feel your pulse pounding in your neck, in your head, you feel your heart starting to let go. The grip of anxiety and depression, seeks release in your tears. But you you can’t let them go because it will mean you are weak, your try to hold them in and as you do your breath becomes tighter and tighter.
For some the tears you shed are of shame. Afraid that if you tell your family your secret, that you are in love with someone of your own gender, you are afraid they will throw you out. That they will no longer call you their child. Your tears come because you are not free to be the person your were made to be. Shame, depression, fear form the tears.
Bullies attack you at school or at work. And the long walk home is then only place you can cry. Alone by the side of the road the tears flow.
Others it is the loss of loved ones. You can’t stop the tears flowing when you remember your son, gone long before he should have been. Your unborn child, never tasting the sweet air of this life. Your parents, the rocks of your lives. All of them have left you here alone. In your grief it is like you are having an out of body experience. You don’t even know the person shedding tears.

We cry out like Martha, “Jesus, if you would have been her you could have saved him. 
And through her tears, through his tears, she hears, “Did I not tell you if you believe you will see the glory of God?”
Looking toward heave, his arms lifted high, through the gasps in his weeping. His tears breaking down the barrier between heaven and earth, falling to the ground. His tears clearing the way for the pain to escape so that new words may come. New tears may fall, tears not of pain or grief, but tears of release, tears of joy, tears of thanksgiving. Looking toward heaven, through sacred tears, Jesus utters a prayer, “Through these tears, I thank you for having heard me. You always hear me. Let them believe.”
“LAZARUS COME OUT!” Jesus cries. Falling then, to the ground his tears puddling underneath him. Watching as in that fallen salt water a bloom rises, hear hears a din from the crowd, “Look, Look.” They say. He looks up and sees his friend resuscitated and emerging from the tomb. Running to him, not caring what the purity laws say, he says to those following him, “Unbind him and let him go.”
Tears are not something to be ashamed up. Tears are the waters of baptism we carry in us. When they fall, they free us to be closer to God in a way that we can never imagine. They become sacred tears reminding us that we will see the glory of God. Because ours is a faith rooted in the sacredness of tears. Rooted in the the truth of life. Rooted in the promise that one day there will be a time of no more tears. That one day God will make his home among us. That one day all this will pass away and mourning and crying and pain will be no more. Our tears connect us to that promise because we know that Jesus wept. And through is tears he shows the glory of God. 
When the tears come through the pain in your body, your tears are sacred. They are true and they are yours. Your tears are the tears of the one who knew pain. They are the tears of the one who hungered for forty day, they are the tears of the one who felt the nails in his flesh. Your tears are sacred because they are the tears of Christ.
When the depression and anxiety are squeeing the life out of you, your tears are sacred tears. They are the tears of the one who knew loneliness, they are tears of the one who knew betrayal. They are the tears of the one who knows what it is be be abandoned by those he loves. Your tears are sacred because they are the tears of Christ.
When you are afraid. Your tears are sacred because they are the tears of the one who wanted the cup to pass him by. They are the tears of the one who wanted to deny who he way. But they are the tears of the one who was accepted by his Father. They are tears of joy that come with the embrace that says I love you as you are. They are sacred tears because they are the tears of Christ.
When the bullies attack you, you tears are the tears of the one mocked and scorned. 
When you are lost and alone because everyone has left you. Your son, your daughter, your parents, your friends. When their lives on this earth are no more you weep with the very tears that Jesus wept with. You weep with the sacred tears of Christ weeping for his friend.
When you are crying those snot filled sobs that leave no room for words, you are weeping with the one who descended to hell. You are weeping with sacred tears.
And when you weep with sacred tears something happens. Something begins to turn. Something begins to grow. Instead of our tragedy informing our theology our theology informs out tragedy. And we begin to see that our tears, painful as they are, are sacred and they are they very waters that run by the tree of life. We see that our tears, full of sorrow and grief as they are, are sacred tears and are they are waters of the Jordan. We see that our weeping will last the night but joy comes in the morning. We see that our sacred tears are the bearers of new life. The are the irrigation channels of healing and hope. They are the river rolling on and the mighty streams of justice. Our tears are sacred.
They are the tears of Abraham making his way up the mountain with Isaac bound turned to joy when the angel of the Lord stopped his knife wielding hand.
They are tears that rolled down the cheeks of the beaten and bloodied Joseph and they turned into tears of reconciliation and forgiveness as he beholds his brothers – lost but now found.
They are the sacred tears of a weeping Naomi turned into tears of love when Ruth says I will stay with you.
they are the tears of Job, sitting on the ash heap, turned into tears of understanding when God is revealed in the whirlwind.
Pouring off the face of the prophet Jeremiah, his shed his sacred tears proclaiming the justice of the living God.
Elizabeth’s tears of sorrow for never being able to conceive a child were a sacred prayer and were transformed into tears Joy at kicking of John in her belly.
Mary, hearing the news of the angel, shed sacred tears – tears that would flow the rest of her life.
They are the tears of Jesus. Jesus who knows the pain and hurting. The illness and anxiety. Jesus how feels loss and desires understanding. They are the tears of God with us.
And our faith in that God promises that there will be a time when these sacred tears will run no more. Their flow will cease. Because we will be in the presence, we will be in the very presence of God. Our faith says that while our tears on earth may flow it is only for a time. Our faith is the faith that knows this present darkness but looks forward to what will be. Looks forward to what will be because we get to touch it now. We are the body of Christ. When we shed our sacred tears we are the body of Christ – touching that space where heaven and earth meet. We are the body of Christ on Calvary ready for that great resurrection day. We are the body of Christ so loved that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Our sacred tears are that reminder. 
Our sacred tears remind us that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, nether the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither heights nor depths; nor anything in all of creation will be able to separate us from the Love of God that is in our Lord Christ Jesus. Jesus who wept with sacred tears.
And this is why we celebrate this feast of All Saints. We celebrate to remember those we love. We celebrate to give thanks for lives lived. We celebrate to shed our sacred tears and be reminded that we are a part of something greater. We are the inheritors of a promise that is beyond our imagining. We celebrate because God is faithful to God’s promises. We celebrate because God’s story doesn’t end at the grave it goes on for ever and we are here and now a part of that forever. So, go from here today unafraid. Be in touch with the world. Let it touch your soul. Let it break your heart. Let us make you angry. Let us show you joy. Let it lift you up. Go unafraid to cry. Unafraid to weep. Go from this place with sacred tears and watch them reap new life where ever they fall. 

Thanks be to God.

Sermon: Sent

SentMatthew 28:16-20

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Here we are at the final act of worship. Act 4 – Sent by God into the World. This is the final act of worship and the first act of moving from a believer to a disciple. Formed by the previous three acts of worship – Gathered into community by God’s loving grace, Strengthened by the proclamation of God’s word and assured of our place in God’s ongoing story, led to respond through the sharing of our gifts and the elevation of prayers – Now, God sends us into the world. Sent, shaped by the thing that is called worship. Shaped by the hand of the God who created the cosmos. Shaped into the disciples who are sent into the world, even into the margins – were are sent into God world – for now our worship has ended, but service begins.

Let us pray…

The women came into the upper room breathless. Gasping they began to tell the strange story of what has just happened in the garden. About how the stone was rolled away. About how there was a messenger from heaven who told them Jesus was not there. About how in their fear they fell and saw the nail pierced feet of the Lord. Breathless they told the men that they were being sent back to Galilee. They were being sent back to where they came from; back to the streets. 

The disciples had been holed up since Friday when they watched their savior bleed. Murdered by the state, having been on death row for a crime he did not commit. They looked at the women like they were speaking in a foreign language. There is no way this happened. Some of them saw Jesus’ side pierced and gasped as the blood and water drenched the parched land. Others, unable to bear the pain he was enduring ran and found shelter in the place where they had their last fond memory of their master. His upper room where they shared the passover feast.

And now, these women had the audacity to tell them they were being sent. Sent from the safety of this sanctuary they had built. Sent back into the very place and to the same people that crucified their lord. 

Unable to believe the reluctance of the men, the women turned and left. They began the walk up the dusty paths back to Galilee. Seeing their determination, the men followed. At a distance. 

For five days, the parched desert landscape and it wind swirled sands stabbed their skin. For the five days it took to walk from Jerusalem to Galilee their minds were reeling with the events. Remembering how they had been called. Gathered by Jesus – the fishermen called from their boats, the tax collector from his office, the zealot and the twin. And the women, they remembered how he had dined with them, called them by name. Treated them as though they mattered. How he appeared to them first, knowing they were the ones whose faith was strong. 

Gathered together they shared the stories of the words he had spoken. Words that brought them into the Reign of God. Words that were dangerous and world changing: Love your enemies; blessed are the poor; turn the other cheek; sell all you have and follow me. They shared the stories that told of God’s love – about how the prodigal son was welcomed with open arms; about the love a stranger and enemy showed to a fallen man. The reminisced about the healings; the lame walking, the blind seeing, and the possessed being brought to renewed life.

As the days passed, as the fire flickered they broke bread together – remembering that final meal they had with him. Seeing how this meal now was something different, they felt his presence as they shared the bread and wine. They joined hands and prayed the prayer that he taught them. 

The sun now rose over the mountain and they saw his silhouette. Through the shadow of his outstretched hands they saw the light piercing the darkness. Knowing it truly was them they sprinted from their place to the top of the mountain. The women fell at his feet. They all worshiped, even though there were lingering questions in some of their minds. Once again he had gathered them together to worship.

Then came his words: “Friends, All power has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, now. Go and make disciples of all people…of all people. Baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them, help them understand and observe all I have taught you and told you. Go boldly. Unafraid, for I am with you. Today. Tomorrow. Forever…even until the end of the ages.”

Sent. They went to where the Spirit blew. Some to Jerusalem, some to Egypt and Northern Africa, some as far as India. They went as disciples, gathered, empowered, fortified. They were sent in hope.

Friends, we are gathered this morning, only to be sent from this place into the margins of the world to proclaim the love, the grace, the unparalleled mercy of our God. This is why we are here. This why this church has been here these 94 years. Many have gathered and many have been sent. 

This being sent, though is a daunting task. It is something some of us would rather not deal with. Even when the Good News of the Risen One is announced, the safety of our upper room is more appealing. The safety of our sanctuary is what comforts us. 

We say to ourselves, if people really want to believe they need to come here. Why don’t they? Why don’t the food pantry guests, or the dance or art students come? We know that the Good News is true and is found here so why don’t they come?

The thing is, even as we believe the Good News, we don’t trust it. We don’t trust that it is as powerful as it claims to be. We don’t trust that when we are marked in the cross of Christ we have been anointed for something special. We don’t trust the words that Jesus said, “Go boldly. Unafraid, for I am with you. Today. Tomorrow. Forever…even until the end of the ages.”

And it is easy to understand. The world outside of our doors can be a frightening place. There is bad news everywhere we turn. Like the disciple sheltered in that upper room – we don’t know what terrors might be waiting for us.

This week as the public execution of a news reporter and her camera man shocked our nation; we stay safe in our cocoon – it is dangerous out there. When the worship of firearms and the idolatry of the second amendment is more important that human lives. When anyone is allowed to conceal carry, leaving the decision of life and death into their own hands, up to their own mood and temper, it is safer to stay in our sanctuaries.
As race baiting politicians try to paint their racists platforms in the guise of defending jobs and keeping us “safe,” when they want keep the entire nation safe behind walls as the expense of families, lives, and basic decency – it is easier to tune out and turn off. Isolating ourselves from the world.

When the chance of peace through diplomacy threatens ideological and warped theological ideas – when some are determined that bombs are a better deterrent than peace – it is safer to stay where we are.

We want to be where it is safe and warm. We want to be swaddled in the comfort that is our sanctuary. It is natural. Self-preservation is important. But when we do that. When we insist that people come here, when we refuse to engage the world, when we don’t emerge from our cocoon, we will die. 
Churches are doing this all over this country. They have been so consumed with saving themselves, of remaining safe, that they have forgotten the command of Jesus. They refused to emerge from their cocoon the beautiful thing God has created them to be and instead die from malnutrition and lack of air. 
We are gathered by God to go out into the world. Unafraid. Boldly. To not be trapped in the safety of our sanctuaries. It is a challenge and it isn’t easy, but have have been gathered into this place to metamorphose into the beautiful creation God has made us. We are fed by the word and respond in love.

It is hard to step out in a world of violence and proclaim, blessed are the peacemakers. Love your enemy. Turn the other cheek. But it is easy when we trust the good news. when we trust that Jesus is with us today. Tomorrow. Forever. Event to the end of the ages.

It is easy to do when we trust in the power that Jesus gives us. 

We see it. We see it every day in this place. When we have reached out into the world – we see little girls in tutus running around the building. We hear Spanish coritos being sung in our alls. We see hungry mouths being fed. We watch as beautiful art unfolds before our eyes. And none of this has happened because we want to stay safe. We have moved our of our cocoon and said to the neighborhood this is what the Kingdom of God looks like. This is what happens when believers become disciples and engage the world around us. This is a place where there is safety and where there is the building up of people who love the lord. 

Sisters and brothers, we have been gathered by God into this place to go out into the world and share the Good News. The good news that there is a God whose love for is is so profound that he can lead a wandering people into a promised land. 

Whose love is so deep for us that when we face giants we have nothing to fear.

We have been gathered by a God who promise that the walls that get in our way will come tumblin’ down.

That when we are trapped in the a fiery furnace, it will only cause the chains that bind us to melt away. 

That when surrounded lions, we can trust they will wait to eat something tastier than us. 

We have been gathered by a God who was born to a teen aged mom in a backwater town to a laborer father.

We have been gathered by a God who feeds us with the word of life: There is rejoicing when you are found; that God rushes to meet us; that God is the one who heals our wounds; mends our hearts; creates in us clean hearts.

We have been gathered to uplift each other in pray, not alone but in a community. 

And we have been gathered to be sent into the world. Sent to bear this precious good news. Sent to change the world. 

“All power has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, now. Go and make disciples of all people…of all people. Baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them, help them understand and observe all I have taught you and told you. Go boldly. Unafraid, for I am with you. Today. Tomorrow. Forever…even until the end of the ages.

Thanks be to God.

Sermon: A Tale of Two Kingdoms

A Tale of Two Kingdoms2 Sam 5:1-5, 9-10 & Mark 6:1-13

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In our readings this morning we encounter two expressions of kingdoms, both blessed and anointed by God, but one founded on the basis of earthly power on and the other rooted firmly in the power of the Divine. It truly is a tale of two kingdoms.

Lets Pray …  

For those of you who don’t know, last week Mae, the kids and I represented Emerson Ave. at the biennial Mission Summit of the American Baptist Churches, USA, the most diverse Protestant denomination in the United States. We gathered in Overland Park, KS with our ABC family from around the world: white and black; hispanic and asian; Native American and natives of the continent of Africa; all of the inhabitable continent were represented. The hues of skin in that convention center was a sight to behold – a rainbow of God’s creative power. And as beautiful as that is, our diversity is not limited to skin tone, gathered in KS were people of means sitting next to people on welfare; there were churches represented who have million dollar budgets and storefront churches with shoestring bottom lines. There were conservatives and liberals; people who hold that the Bible is the inerrant infallible word of God and people who understand the Bible to be a collection of myths; and there were heterosexuals and members of the LGBT community all gathered in that sacred space. The patchwork quilt that is the ABC-USA was fully present. Gathered to celebrate and enjoy each others company.

We saw friends we have not seen in at least two years. We rejoiced in each others company. We celebrated the work we were all doing in our respective communities. There were people I talked to who were encouraged by the work we are doing here at EABC…people I just met there, but had heard about us. Yes, people around the country are excited about the fact that we are becoming an active part in the community with the garden, with Lux Nova, with the Dance School, with the fact that we are open 7 days a week. They see that we are a small, but growing congregation. We are an example for some of how just being present, being hospitable and attentive to the needs of the community can grow a church with out spending tons of money on the next big program. We are an example of how to be church. People are paying attention to us, and more importantly – people from around the world, yes around the world, are praying for us.

But, even as we gathered and there was the air of celebration in our midst there was also something else going on. There was an air of revival in the convention center. And that air was stirring with a call for repentance. While we were in Overland Park, the Supreme Court handed down two decisions that alter the course of our nations history, and in our diversity you are right to assume that there were diverse reactions to the rulings regarding the Affordable Care Ace and Marriage Equality. Some were weeping with joy that they can not legally marry the person the love and others were mourning the fact that they feel the nation is leaving God behind. Honest emotions from both sides, both deeply held and honest.

While we were there, even as we were remembering the nine souls lost in Charleston, news was making the rounds of churches being burnt in the south, female African-American pastors receiving death threats. And in the middle of that news was the power message of the President reminding the nation of God’s Amazing Grace. All of these things brought a flood of emotions, from all over the spectrum, and in that myriad of emotions came a message that brought a sense of revival and a call to repentance.

Each speaker, preacher, named the fact that we as the ABC-USA had been brought together – in all of our diversity – for a time such a this. We have been brought together in Overland Park by the furious love of God. We have been brought together by the love of a God who in all of our diversity invites all to come and sit at the welcome table. We, in our disagreements are all ALL beloved of God and have a place in the Kingdom of God, and so a call of repentance was put forth. For us, as the ABC to repent of those things what get in the way of anyone being fully the person God intends for them to be. We seek forgiveness for our complacency in the face of such a furious love. We seek forgiveness and repent of our giving in to white supremacy, a world view that intentional or not allows for one people to say I am better than you. We seek forgiveness and repent of our failure to love people of God because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, because in the furious love of God – all are created in the image of God. We seek forgiveness and repent of our stubborn refusal to see that God’s vision for the world is so much broader and deeper than our own, and that even though we may disagree over things we are bound together by the love of a God who put on human clothes to love us even unto death.

And as these sins were named and as people began to give them to God, something happened in the convention center. I saw something I had never seen in a meeting of the ABC. I saw a fire of revival being lit. I saw people – even though they disagree theologically or politically – I saw people begin to look at the world in a new way. I saw people, myself included, begin to look at the world thorough the lens of God’s love rather than my own understanding of things. I began to ask questions that force me to always focus first on the commands of Jesus to love God and love neighbor. That is my job. That is our job. And it isn’t easy, it won’t be easy. And there are two ways it could go. A tale of two kingdoms.

The first way it can go is the way of the Kingdom of Israel. In Samuel today, we heard about the coronation of King David. We get the nice story of how the people came to him and crowned him king of Israel (he had already been king of Judah) and in this coronation the two kingdoms were united. What we don’t get is the story of how he became the king, crowned by the people. We know from a couple of weeks ago that Samuel came to him and anointed him when he was just a boy, and now, 10-15 years later he is finally being crowned, but he was crowned by the people out of fear and because they saw what happened to the Saulide line. All of Saul’s kin had been killed and the Philistine army was advancing. They knew David was a might warrior so they came and crowned him King. And the Bible says that David’s power became greater and greater and that the Lord was with him. 

We know that David was a man of great faith, the power of the psalms he wrote give us witness of his deep desire to be all God wanted him to be, but we also learn that David was a man who struggled with power. He knew how to use it and many times he used it for means that would please him and and increase his power. He would use his power to kill the husband of the woman he raped when she became pregnant. He would ignore his power when it meant dealing with his rapist son. David was a mirror to our own sin and longing. 

He built a great kingdom, but it wouldn’t last. Within two generations the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were once again split. The prophecies of Samuel to the people of the disingenuousness of their kings was coming true. Time and again the kings would worry about their own power and turn away from the face of the Living God. They would turn and rely on their own devices and not operate under the supreme law of Torah, to Love the Lord Your God and Love Neighbor. The loved self and put nation above love. While David was the exemplar of a Godly King, he was also the model that led to the fall of an empire because he – as we all do – split his focus on God and Self. And we see what happened, military defeats. Exile to Assyria and then Babylon. We see the line of the kings disappear into dust as first the Greeks and then the Romans over take the land of milk and honey. 

And as the Romans took over the promised land, into a back water community called Bethlehem – the city of David’s birth – was born another king, in the line of David, but poor, born of an unwed teenager girl, without a place to lay his head. This king was born and heaven and earth touched. This king was born and was anointed by the waters of the Jordan and called Beloved. This king was anointed to, instead of bring power and glory to Israel, he was anointed to bring healing to the sick, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, to proclaim the year of God’s favor. This king came in and brought with him a kingdom that is still standing 2,000 years later. 
Jesus ushered into the world the Kingdom of God. The ideal kingdom that God wanted for the people in the promised land all those years ago. The kingdom they turned down when they demanded a king be anointed, forsaking the King of Kings. Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God, and people did not like it. 

It was subversive and dirty. It touched the untouchable. It sat with the outcasts. It brought the tax collector and the zealot together at the same table. It healed the possessed. It acted in pure unadulterated love. The kingdom of God that Jesus ushered in ignored all of the rules, all of the biasses, all of the walls that people had built to separate themselves from everyone else and instead built a house of love where all could gather and eat.

And we see what happened, in his own home town he was rejected. He was told it was impossible because of where he came from – that poor woman Mary who had a baby before she was married, and that Joseph the carpenter who made stuff that was good enough for them to eat on, but was still an outcast because he did not divorce Mary. This bastard can’t be anything other than a charlatan. 

Jesus, in disbelief, acted in love and said to his disciples, “well, let’s go.” He didn’t fight. He didn’t argue. He didn’t demand that they do what he says, he just said, ok, let’s move on. Because in the Kingdom of God, in the Kingdom of Love, even in disagreement seeds of resurrection are planted. 

This is the second way we could go is the way of love. The way of radical, subversive love. The way that will get us accused of being race baiting, gay loving (note: in preached sermon I said queer loving in order to reflect the derogatory names we will be called for being allies. I apologize if this causes offense to any of my LGBT friends), , immigrant loving, “friends of sinners.” Dishonored our hometown because we are acting too much like Jesus, but his is the way of the Kingdom of God. This is the way of the furious love of God. Jesus never said lover the sinner hate the sin, Jesus just sat down and had dinner with friends and in that meal lives were changed. Because the love of Jesus, the love of God sees us all as friends and longs for us all to gather at the welcome table. The table of transformation of redemption of salvation. The table of love.
It is this excitement, this good news, that caused a wind of revival to blow in the Mission Summit. The wind blew across everyone in the place, regardless of race or ethnicity; sexual orientation; political allegiance; portfolio size; the wind of the Holy Spirit blew across the Mission Summit calling us to love one another as Christ loves us. Because it is in that love and only in that love that we will truly touch the Kingdom of God. It is a radical act that challenges us. It forces you and me to confront our own biases. It puts a mirror up to our own faces so we can take the splinter out of our eyes. This radical love, this furious love of God when it takes center stage is the foundation for the ongoing Kingdom of God.

When the love of God took center stage it transformed a killer of Christians into an apostle to the nations.

When the love of God took center stage it said there is no Greek or Jew, no slave or free, no male or female for we are all one in the Christ.

When the love of God took center stage it cave courage to the women in the gladiators’ arena facing their deaths with courage.

When the love of God took center stage it brought an empire to its knees and changed the creed from Caesar is Lord to Christ is Lord.

When the love of God took center stage it built a church that changed the social order and gave power to the powerless; the widow; the orphan; the minority and said you are equal.
When the love of God took center stage it blew its holy breath across the pages of scripture opening up the Word to everyone with the advent of the printing press.

When the love of God too center stage it said you don’t need to buy your way into heave, grace is free.

When the love of God took center stage it stood fast in a river in Amsterdam and claimed int he face of persecution that God loves me.

It crossed an ocean and said that religious liberty is for everyone; that slavery is evil; that women have rights; that former slaves have rights.

When the love of God took center stage it said, I have a dream that one day we will truly sing the words of that Spiritual, Free at Last Free at Last thank God almighty I am free at last.

When the love of God took center stage in Overland Park, it took what could have easily been a contentious and divisive Mission Summit and transformed it into a revival tent. 

When God’s love take center stage it reminds us that Jesus’ reaction in these days when people are shot because of their skin color, churches are burned, pastors receive death threats, people are allowed to marry the person they love gay or straight – Jesus’ reaction would be to “Love your neighbor.” Love without exception. Love with your whole being. It reminds us that if we follow Jesus we love our black neighbor, our brown neighbor, our gay neighbor, our straight neighbor, our fundamentals neighbor, our atheist neighbor, our Muslim and Jewish neighbors, and even our annoying neighbors next door. It reminds us that it is our job to love and God’s to judge. 

God’s love takes all of us and reminds us that through it all … in it all … each one of us is a child of God, created in the the image of God…created in the divine image of Love. Created to love with the furious love of God that envelops us all, ALL, like the winds of a typhoon. Consuming us, soaking us, redeeming us, all. ALL.

Thanks be to God.

Sermon: A Change in Perspective

The Giant in our Way1 Sam 17:1-23,32-49

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It has happened again. President Obama on Thursday said that this is the fourteenth time in his seven years in office that he has has to address the nation in the wake of a mass shooting: Birmingham, NY – 13 dead, 4 wounded; Ft. Hood, TX, 13 dead; Tucson, AZ, 6 dead; Aurora, CO – 12; Oak Creek, WI – 6; Newtown, CT – 27 most of them children; Washington, DC Naval Yard – 12 children of God slain; Ft. Hood, TX again – 3; Chapel Hill, NC – 3; and these are just some of the ones President Obama has lamented. The statistics are even more heart wrenching – our nation has averaged one mass shooting per month since 2009. And yet it continues.

It has happened again. This time in Charlotte, NC. (Ed. Correction, Charleston, SC) Cynthia, Susie, Ethel, DePayne, Clementa, Tywanza,Daniel, Sharonda, Myra – nine killed as they gathered for Bible Study, one left intentionally alive to tell the world the reason behind the shooting, “You have got to go,” he said, “I have to do it…you rape our women, and you’re taking over our country.” The terrorist who committed this act wasn’t speaking about personal issues with someone with these words. This coward was instead, worshiping at the feet of the giant who is still standing in the valley, taunting those of good will – he was worshiping at the giant of racism that looms large in this country. Despite appearances to the contrary – we do not live in a post-racial country. We live in a post Jim Crow country. A country where the giant of racism has been grafted into our national DNA. Whether we are aware of it or not. The Goliath is there in the valley demanding that we dare come and try to fight him. 

The Giant stands there taunting the church. But what the giant doesn’t know is that the church, you and me, if we are brave enough can knock the giant down. God is on the side of justice and right. God doesn’t let us go into this fight empty handed. Our perspective has to be challenged and our demeanor changed, but when that happens. The Giant will fall. 

 Let us pray…

I find it powerful, as always, how the Holy Spirit works. I chose to preach this summer on the story of David weeks ago. The lectionary prescribes the texts and the order of the story, and it happens that today we hear the story of David and Goliath. The flannel graph favorite. How many of us can picture either sitting in Sunday School or teaching Sunday School and looking on with awe as the boy David in his blue and white shepherd’s robes approaches the armored giant Goliath. How many of us sat on the edges of our seats wondering if the small boy – the one that as children we could really identify with – how many of us sat there in anticipation as the sling spun in the air, and were delighted with the appropriate thunk as the rock sunk into the skull of the giant. The little guy triumphs over the giant. It is the quintessential underdog story. 

The bible says the Israelites were terrified of this Philistine Giant. And rightfully so. 

You see, they had been fighting their mortal enemies for days, and not the armies had each seized the the high points on the opposite sides of a great valley. It would be suicide for either side to try to go down in the valley to attack the opposing army. They would be sitting duck, totally exposed in the valley. So, as was custom, the Philistines sent a solider out in to the middle of the valley to engage in one on one combat with a soldier of the Israelite army. This was done to save lives on either side and to determine whose God was the most powerful. 

They would fight to the death and the victor would lead his army to defeat and capture the opposing army. 
Now the soldier the Philistines sent out was not a great general or sleek soldier. They went one step further and send out a giant. Goliath. A mountain standing 9 and a half feet tall. Wearing armor that weighed well over 100 pounds, carrying a spear that weighed 15 pounds. 

It is understandable why the Israelite army fully believed the taunts coming from his mouth. For forty days, he stood in the valley, threatening and intimidating. He called them every name in the book, challenged their manhood, insulted their families. The Giant was winning with out even throwing a blow. 

The eyes of the Israel army only saw a giant who would slaughter whomever dared to be foolish enough to step up and fight him. From their perspective this giant could never be defeated. He was too massive. They did not feel equipped to fight the enemy. They felt small and insignificant in light of the giant problem before them.

They see the giant of racism standing in front of them and wonder how on earth it can be defeated. They see the news day after day listing the casualties of war. They weep as nine people are slaughtered by the giant – even as they pray.

The sense of hopelessness is a cloud covering them. A cloud shaped by the giant. The light shinning behind him casting a pall of darkness and despair over the nation. Over the church.

These past few days we have come face to face with the giant, the largest unspoken of giant in our national dna. From the first footsteps on this land the giant came. The early settlers knowing that their bloodlines were pure and the savage first nations people already here had to be tamed. The ships of slaves crossing the ocean, forced labor building the economies of both the north and the south. The roots of revolution started when the homeland outlawed slavery. The constitution declaring people kissed by the African Sun to be only worth 3/5 of a full human. The giant walks in the land – taunting.
The giant continues his jeering as once freed slaves are held now in indentured servitude, forced to sharecrop on the land they were promised. And as they begin to to gain power, a giant named Jim Crow comes to town. Christ is crucified again and again as the cross becomes the lynching tree – strange fruit swinging in the soft southern breeze.
The giant taunts and ridicules those who try to fight. Gunning down leaders like Medgar and Martin. Creating a school to prison pipeline that punishes the darker hued more than the ones of Philistine descent. The giant laughs as nine are gunned down worshiping their God. The giant bellows as the newscasters minimized the terror saying the murderer is a lone wolf, is imbalanced. He bellows as he hears them try every which way that this was not a killing that was racially motivated, even though in the killer’s own words – “I wanted to start a race war.” The giant mocks as the issue of race becomes a battle line of left and right rather than a factor of humanization. The giant enjoys watching as excuses are made for not trying to fight him. 
As he hears the cries of, “what can we do?” “That’s the way it has always been.” He chuckles as there are some who decide that there is no giant, because our Commander in Chief is a black man. The giant stands in the valley with his javelin in the air, sneering, ridiculing, causing his enemy to being to question each other. Causing them to turn on each other. 
In the midst of the hazing from the Philistine giant, walks a shepherd boy bringing lunch to his brothers fighting for King Saul. Sent by his dad to bring food because they have been at this stalemate for forty days he enters the encampment to hear the guttural cries of the giant. 

He sees the fear and uncertainty in the eyes of the kings army. He looks at them. He looks at the giant. Them. Giant. Them. Giant. Unsure of what their issue is, he steps up. 

“I will go and fight this giant.”
As he says this uneasy laughs rise up from the encamped army. Even the king laughs, “You are just a boy. Beat it. You don’t know what you are talking about.”

But David has a different perspective of the situation. He doesn’t see a mountain, but rather sees a man slow and weak. He sees that the giant, while obscenely huge in reality is quite weak and vulnerable. He sees that the giant did not come into the valley on his own, but was helped by an assistant. Leading his way. David saw the systems in place to make the giant tower over the people. David did not see a great warrior, but saw a man weighed down by over a hundred pounds of armor. He sees a man who is not nimble enough to evade the weapon of a shepherd. 

David has a perspective of the situation that sees the giant for what he is – a distraction. He sees the giant not as an impregnable fortress, but as a problem to be confronted and dealt with. He see the giant as nothing more than a weak man hiding behind his masquerade of power.

“Sir, I have fought and killed lions and bears. Let me go. I go not alone, but with the God of the fighting angels with me. This giant is something that can be dealt with, you just have to do it right.” 

“Fine, boy. Put on this armor.”
“I don’t need your armor. I don’t need another workshop on how do fight a giant. It just gets in the way of the real work.”

And so, David goes down in to the valley. He gets as close as he needs to fight the giant. He picks up a stone. Whirls it in his sling. It leaves the sling traveling at a speed of over 60 meters a second. The stone, before the giant can react, nails him between the eyes and fells the beast. 

The giant in our way is a huge and terrible problem. The giant of racism has been mocking people of good will since the ver beginnings of this country’s history, and to deny that fact is to allow the giant to win. It is to see things from the giant’s perspective. But when we stop and look a the giant from God’s perspective. When we look a the giant with analytical eyes, we see not a foe that we can let control us, but we see a problem that prevents people for living the way God wants them to live – as free people. As whole people. As people bound in community.

What the giant can’t see is that even as he seeks to divide us, God has already begun a time of renewal. The martyrs are laying int he battle field, Martin and Medgar, Michael and Tamir, Four little girls in Birmingham, Nine saints in Charlotte, and countless others having given their lives in the fight for freedom; having died at the hand of the giant these freedom fighters have taught us things. They have taught us that racism is a systemic evil, yes it resides in the hearts of humans, but it also has engrained itself into the very fabric of society. When the desk of a slain Black pastor is draped in funeral bunting in the stated capitol while above that desk of grief flies the Confederate flag – there are systems of evil beating in the soul of a state. The saints have taught us that the way to defeat the giant is to listen to their stories. To tell their stories. To meet our neighbors and learn their stories. And to enter the battle with humble hearts, and not the hubris of political allegiance.

When we look a the giant from God’s perspective we see an evil that can be over come. We look for ways to fight, and there on the valley’s edges we find the first stone – the families of those slain in Charlotte forgiving the killer of their kin. Radical grace; the gospel writ large. We look: an other stone, this congregation – look around as the faces in this place. Black and white; coming together to worship the God who created us all in God’s image. We have the perspective of deep and loving relationships that can be mutually educational. That can open our eyes even more to the persistence of evil. This stone can be the one to fell a giant if we face him together. Hand in hand, arm in arm. 

Another stone: leaders in the community who are working to build relationships across racial lines. Their work rooted in the reality that it is only through relationships that the giant can be defeated. On August 1, I invite as many of you as can to an event of encounter. As stone that can sail between the eyes of giant.
Another stone: we have the witness of history. The giant rears his ugly head again and again. Not just here, but everywhere. In Europe, migrants are being returned to their homes – even though death awaits them. In Burma, ethnic cleansing has been going on for forty years. In the mid-east, Sunni and Shia Muslims are killing each other; Arabs and non-Arabs fight. The witness of history seems to favor the giant, but in the middle of all of these battles there are David’s rising up, speaking God’s love, God’s healing. 

The final stone: we know what happens when David slings his stone. We know that David comes at the problem from God’s perspective and we see that David does not enter the fight alone. Those beaten down by the giant laugh at him. But that doesn’t matter. When we have the courage to call the giant what he is – Racism, many will call us race-baiters. They will call us antagonizers. They will call us alarmists. They will say that we are trying to start problems. 

Let ’em. Say it all you want, but you know what? It don’t matter. You can call us names. We come into this fight armed with he truth of the living God. The God of all humanity. We come like the shepherd David. Ready to fight because this is not the way things are supposed to be. 

The fight is long and hard. But when we go into it with the right perspective, it isn’t impossible and it isn’s daunting. It is about being the people of God in a place where the giants want to scare. 

God Goes with us. We are not alone in this fight. 

David said to the giant, “This very day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head…so that all the earth may know that there is a God….”

Ours is a righteous fight. It is the battle of good over evil. And when the church rises up and steps into the battle, the earth will know that there is a God

Thanks be to God.

Letter to the congregation

Greetings Friends,

My heart is heavy, weary, worn. My spirit is angry, anxious, confused.

I am writing this letter to you the day after the news of 9 people being murdered as they gathered in prayer. They were slaughtered because of the color of their skin. They gathered for their Wednesday Evening Bible Study at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC and a terrorist opened fire on the group saying,  “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

Words escape us and all we can do is have the Holy Spirit intercede for us with groaning too deep for words. Our hearts break with our sisters and brothers in Charlotte.

And yet, my heart is heavy, weary, worn. My spirit is angry, anxious, confused.

The terror that happened at the Lord’s House yesterday was not an isolated incident. It was not the act of one man. Rather, it is one more thread in the twisted tapestry of racial violence that has been a consistent narrative in this land since the first settlers landed on our shores. The slaughter of yesterday is one more instance of terror inflicted against our sisters and brothers of African descent: there is an over 200 year history of Black Churches being the targets of bombings, lynchings, and shootings.

Even though much good has happened in the last 50 years, there is still a long way to go in reconciling our racial relationships. Just because we have a president of African descent does not mean we are in a post-racial America. The weeping in Charlotte is the evidence of this.

Still, my heart is heavy, weary, worn. My spirit is angry, anxious, confused.

As the storm of emotions courses through my being, I am grateful to be a part of a faith community that crosses racial lines. When I stand at the pulpit every Sunday, my heart fills with joy as I see the beautiful tapestry that is created when God weaves together a community that rests in Grace and Love. We are evidence that what is isn’t what has to be. We are a cornerstone of the Beloved Community.

And even so we have a way to go. We have relationships to strengthen. Here, again, we are blessed. There is an organization I have been working with named IndyCAN, and for the last year we have been addressing the issue of systemic racism in our midst. We have created a workshop called The Season of Encounter and I would like for some us to participate in the event on August 1 from 9-4. I will have more details later, but this is an opportunity for us to get to build and strengthen our relationships with each other and with others in our city.

When I think of these gifts, my heart beats a little slower, feels a little lighter. My spirit calms, nerves relax, and one thing becomes clear.

We worship a God who put on human clothes and was murdered innocently. We worship a God who was the object of racism. We worship a God who did not let those things become the story, rather our God changed the story – flipped the script. Our God brought healing to the broken hearted, help to the hurting, and turned death into life. Our God is weeping in Charlotte. Our God is crying in Indianapolis. Our God is there in the midst of tragedy undoing the tapestry of evil that veils the world, and weaving a tapestry of love that will bring us through to the other side.

It is this that brings hope to my heart and solace to my soul. It is the cross that gives me strength.

During this time, not only do I pray for our friends in Charlotte, but I pray for each of you and for us as a community of faith, that we – even in the darkness – can be beacons of light in the word.

God loves you. God loves you. God loves you.

Pastor Justin


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