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

Sermon: When God Calls

When God Calls

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

Click here for audio.

The summer of David continues this week, after the prologue of last week when we were introduced to the supporting cast of characters: we me Samuel the prophet of the Lord, Saul the newly anointed king, and the people of 12 tribes. We heard about how even when the people continued to fall away from what God desired for them, because of God’s faithfulness – God would find a way for them to be saved. There were going to be ups and downs, good and bad, it wouldn’t be a nice and smooth path, but in God’s faithfulness, nothing would separate them for God’s love.

This week we meet, very briefly the central human figure in this summer’s sermons series. We meet David. The boy who would be king. The boy who was just a few moments ago tending sheep and is now the anointed future king of Israel. This is a story of what happens when God calls. 

Let’s pray…

The stage is set this morning for the foundation to be laid for the story of the person in the Bible who’s name is mentioned most in the Bible. In the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible David is mentioned 1,107 times and Jesus is mentioned 1,001 times. Over 950 verses in our Holy Book are dedicated to this man after God’s own heard. This man who was a boy, nearly forgotten by his father when the prophet Samuel came to Bethlehem to anoint the future king.

The story begins with the downfall of Saul. Saul is still king and will be for a number of years, but he as lost the Lord’s blessing. God will no longer speak to Saul, and Samuel will not see him again until they day he dies. The Lord has left Saul to fend for himself, so God sends Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint the one who will who become king after Saul. 

Fearing for his life because he knows Saul is a jealous king and is drunk with power, Samuel seeks wisdom of how to go about this treasons task. He is told by God to go to Bethlehem to make a sacrifice, and when he does he is instructed to invite Jesse and his boys to the sacrifice. 

Now, a little background check about Jesse, he is the grandson of a woman named Ruth. Ruth is the daughter in law of a woman named Naomi. Now they became kin in the land of Moab which is outside of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Moabites were historic enemies of the Israelites, yet during the time of Naomi there were friendlier relations, as she and her family fled there during a famine. During this time, her sons married and later died in their famine induced exile. Ruth, one of the women who married one of her sons, returned with her to Bethlehem. There Ruth remarried Boaz and gave birth to Obed, Davids granddad. 

This the first strangeness in this saga of the once and future king of Israel. That he would not be of pure Hebrew blood. That in his veins flowed the blood of foreigners, and yet, when God calls…

Even so, the strangeness must have not been lost on Jesse as at the sacrifice, Samuel begins to go down the line of the sons of Jesse. Son number one: strong and handsome, royal looking, this is the one, right God. “No, Sammy. Keep going. Don’t base it in looks.” 

“Fine, Lord, you know. How about boy number two? He is smart and well read.” 


“Third one’s a charm, right?” 

“Keep on movin'”

So for seven sons this pattern of rejection happened. By now, Jesse had to be wondering if this was all a joke being played on him. Surely it had to be. 

At the end of the line, Samuel is just as confused. “What gives, God?”

“Ask if he has any more boys.”

So, Samuel asks Jesse, who replies that yes, but he is the runt. God can do better than him. He is out watching the sheep. He hasn’t even become a man yet. “Well, let’s see. Send for him.”

So Jesse calls for David to come in from the field, and sure enough he is but a boy. His cheeks red from the heat. His hair matted with sweat form being in the pasture with the sheep. His odor that of a shepherd. But his eyes told a different story. His eyes, opalescent, reflecting the generations gone before him, they told the story of what God had done. When the runt of Jesse’s litter came before the prophet of the Lord, Samuel knew. 

The old prophet made his way to the boy and emptied his entire horn of oil on his head. And as the oil fell down his face, they Spirit of the Lord fell upon the shepherd and he was the anointed king to come. 

His brothers stood in disbelief. His father fainted. The old prophet just went home. When God calls, sometimes you are left scratching your head. I can’t imagine the brothers reactions when they got home. Remember the reaction of Joseph’s brothers when he got his pretty technicolor coat? They wanted to kill him, and ended up selling him into slavery. I am guessing David’s brothers probably were not too kind to their little brother when they got home. “How could this runt be the king?” “He isn’t even a man yet?” “I saw him go crying to dad just the other day.” I imagine they would have a hard time with this.

And isn’t that the way when you see someone else getting something you think either they don’t deserve or that they some how did not earn? Or even worse something that should be yours? You just stand there in disbelief. You stand there confused – not just about why they were picked, but what does this mean for you? 

You get wrapped up in being one of the brothers. Wondering why things are happening for everyone else but you. Asking what it is that they have that you don’t. You get busy watching all that is going on that your self-doubt rises, that your envy grows. You get so wrapped up in being one of the brothers that you become deaf to the fact that you, too are called like David. 

It might not be that you are like one of the brothers, but rather that you feel even smaller than David. That you feel you have nothing to contribute. That because of your age you are either too young to be take seriously or your are too old to have any energy. You might feel that you have tried to do what you were called to do and ended up disappointed. 

Maybe you had a call, maybe you were called and you truly answered God’s call on your life, but now it seems nothing but empty. You feel the fire burning at the edges of your being and you are just waiting for the full effects of the flame to burn you you. You are tired. And you are empty.

There are lots of voices that shout out to us. Voices that are comforting and promising. Voices that are taunting and teasing. Voices that speak the words we want to hear, but not necessarily the words we need to hear. There are voices calling out to us. So many voices that in the din of it all it is almost impossible to hear God. But even in that cacophony of voices God is calling out. God is always calling out your name. Calling you to something greater. Calling you to be greater Calling to you be a king or queen.

God knew what God what doing when he called David. God knew people would wonder what was going on. God knew that that people would wonder how this boy could reign and lead God’s people. God knew that David would grow up in the court of Saul and experience deep, deep love in his friendship with Jonathan, and that he would be terrorized by a jealous Saul. God knew that David would have choices to make, and many times they would be the wrong choices. God knew that these poor choices would cause David’s family to be dysfunctional. But God also knew that even in the poor choices, David would listen for God’s call. And David would eventually return to God. David would turn and repent, tears flowing, begging to hear the voice of God. And God, faithful God, would keep calling his name. 

God keeps calling your name. God is, today, calling you to be the person you were meant to be. The person you are anointed to be. God may be calling you to ministry. God may be calling you to serve the church. God may be calling you to run for office. God may be calling you to something that I can’t even imagine. God is calling you. 

God can use you. God is calling you to be the person God has meant you to be. To do the things God has created you to do. 

When God calls and you hear it, believe me, your world changes and you see things in a whole different light. 

When I finally listened to God’s call to be a pastor, I had no idea what life you would look like. I never anticipated that it would mean I would end up in Indianapolis – a city I had only been to once in my life. I never anticipated that it meant I would have the privilege of meeting wise people who could share with me their sorrows and joys. I would never have guessed I would meet new folks who would speak to me and teach me through the language of art – my language. I would never have believed that I would be at a church that is growing each Sunday from 40 when I started to over 60 for the last six weeks – in a time when they say churches are dying. I would never, ever, have believed I would get to Baptize 5 people in one year – and the year ain’t done yet. God’s call on my life has taken me to places I would never have believed 6 years ago when I started seminary. When God calls…

When God calls, it can be a difficult thing to hear. It can be a hard journey, but we are never promised that it will be an easy ride. We are promised that we will not go alone. We are promised that when we listen to the voice of God all fear will fall. When God’s call is answered, however hard it might be, how ever difficult the call – when Gods’ call is answered – there will be strength for the journey. There will be light in the darkness. There will be hope in the times of despair. Because when God calls God doesn’t call you do work alone.

And so, God is calling. God is calling you. God is calling me. God is calling this church to be something extraordinary in this city. Calling us to be a beacon of grace and mercy. Of love and justice, healing and hope in a city that is hurting. God is calling us to rebuild this neighborhood. To be a voice against injustice; to be the voice of those the people in power iwll not listen to. God is calling us to fight. To Fight the powers that be and lift up the beautiful image of God in those around us. It is a challenge. It won’t be easy. It will take all of us working together using the gifts God has given us. It will take time, but God is calling us. And when God calls you can try to find one, but there are no excuses…

I’m too old, you are saying – God called Abram to a whole new life when he was 75. And told Sarah when she was 90 she was going to have a baby. 

I’m too young for God to call me – Well, we know that ain’t true – David was anointed king at 10. Jesus called the little children unto him and said the Reign of God was theirs. You aren’t too young.

I’m too short – Zacchaeus was a wee little man and wee little man was he.

I’m a woman – Come on’ now. Sarah. Ruth. Naomi. Rahab. Esther. Elizabeth. Mary. Priscilla. Aquila. God’s calling you.

God can’t use me. I can’t even get around. Last time I checked, God is the one who makes the lame walk. The blind see. The deaf hear. God is the one who restores our souls.

God took a stuttering shepherd, Moses, and made him the liberator of 

God’s people.

God took the runt of the litter, David, and made him the King. 

God took a coward, Jonah, and made him a prophet of love.

God took an an ostracized slave, Esther, and made her the Queen.

God took a backwoods prophet, John, and had him prepare the way of the Lord.

God took a persecutor of the church, Saul, and made him the greatest community organizer to ever live, Paul. 

If God can use these, God can use you. God is calling. God is calling.

Thanks be to God.

Sermon: Always Gettin’ What Ya Want

Always Gettin’ What Ya Want1 Sam. 8:4-20, 11:14-15

Click here for the audio.. This might be a good week to do so, since then of the preached sermon differed from the end of the manuscript..

This morning the lectionary, that rhythm of readings used by many churches, begins the summer of David. I thought it would be fun for us to spend some time this summer joining in that journey. We will follow David through ups and downs, highs and lows, and we will be witnesses of God’s work through out this season. We will partake in the presence of the Almighty, as God lifts us David, and shakes God’s head in disgust – we will hear where God is doing the same with us, and through it all we will understand the ferocity of God’s love for God’s people – through the good and the not so good. 

So as this summer of David begins, you might be asking your self, “Self, Pastor just read the Scripture and we didn’t hear about David. Instead we heard about Samuel, the People, and Saul. What gives?” Well, friends…this week serves as sort of a prologue – a set up, if you will, for all the things that are to come.

This morning, as the Summer of David begins, I would like for us to spend some time on the subject of what happens when you Always Get What Ya Want.

Let’s pray….

Let’s set the scene, created the context upon which we will be spending our time this morning. As we begin this reading this morning, there is no nation of Israel so to speak. There are the 12 tribes of Judah, the people known as the Hebrews, but there is not certified nation state. Think of it as a confederations of states working who share a common identity, yet have no overarching national governing structure. When it comes to defending land or protecting people, it can be an iffy proposition to get some of the other tribes to help.

There have been a series of Judges lifted up by God to help lead the people through times of trial (usually of their own doing), in fact there is an entire book of the Bible that chronicles the exploits of these Judges. It is the action movie of the Bible. There is intrigue, there are battles, there are love stories…it is the book where some of our favorite and head scratching stories come from … The strong man Samson and his lady love Delilah, The warrior Deborah, and Gideon come to mind as epic stories of battle and intrigue, but then there are the head scratchers like Ehud and Eglon – the throne room killing (those of you in Wednesday Bible Study can explain that to some who might not know), we have the story of Jephthah having to sacrifice his own daughter…the Judges ruled the tribes, but when their need was done the settled back into obscurity.

Enter Samuel, the boy who spent his life in the service of God. He is called upon to be a Judge for the people of Judah. He is called upon by the people to fulfill a specific request. They have all gotten together at the Hebrew National Convention and created a platform and have decided that they need a King to unite the people and create a unified Nation State. They are tired of being a loose confederation of states and want and anointed leader to bring them together. They saw that Samuel’s two sons (next in line to be judges) were crooked and could be paid off by the highest bidder, the would let the Koch Brothers dictate their decisions and not the Voice of God.

Now, one would think that Samuel would be pleased at this…it would take some of the burden off of his shoulders, after all as a called prophet of the most high he would serve as an advisor to the King. However, that is not the case. Samuel is angry. He is livid. He knows this is a big mistake. You see, God’s plan never intended for there to be a King. God’s plan was that the people would trust God’s faithfulness…You know, the God who brought their ancestors out of slavery, the God who tore down Jericho’s walls, who raised up Judges again and again to restore them … That God…the plan was for God to provide for them, but noooo, now they were telling Samuel, that wasn’t good enough. They needed someone they could see to be their leader. So, Samuel, does what a good judge does. He says to the people, “Let me pray on it.” And he does. 

Well, God answers the prayers of the people. God says, “Y’all are gonna get what ya ask for.” Samuel tells them as much, but tries to convince them by letting them know it isn’t going to be a bed of roses. The king will have a draft in war time and your kids are gonna die, the king will take from you, he will uses your girls as “bakers,” he will enslave you…are you sure you want to do this. And like a child not quite comprehending consequences the answer is a resounding, “YES!”

And after a couple chapters of telling the story of the soon to be monarch, we see Samuel anoint Saul. King of the Hebrews. The people rejoice with gladness and praise to God. Samuel, shakes his head, “always gettin’ what ya want.”


The people want a king. They want that thing that the other nations have. The nations that are always attacking them…they want a leader they can see. They want to have the perception that someone is in control. That someone will get them out of the problems they have. The people want a king.
In my pondering and preparations for today it occurred to me that, even though we live in a democracy, we still love our kings. We are always putting a crown on something that helps to give us meaning. Be it our duly elected president, but even more close to home – all of the things we elevate to royalty. This happens not just on a personal level, but on so many levels. 

There are holes that we need to have filled, and the way we do that is by crowning something. Elevating it to the place of prominence.

At home we do it. Often times it is out of a sense of necessity or desperation. Like the people of old who were tired of being over run by the foreign forces, we get tired of the mountains of our lives. The mountains that grow so high that when the eventual avalanche comes we don’t know if we will survive. 

The mountain of bills that just seems to keep growing. You pay one off, only to have the hydra head sprout two new bills. We shuffle our resources as much as we can, You cut costs, you try to be responsible, but when there is no additional income, the cuts can only do some much before you are overwhelmed by the avalanche of anxiety. So you pray of a king. You try to find fixes that make sense, that will work. So the credit card application that comes in the mail gets crowned as the way to pay off the other bills, if you untie them maybe you can pay them. But you become enslaved by the 25% interest rate and soon the avalanche begins again.

You might crown the king of beers and bow to the potentate of chemistry to alter how we feel. Thinking that this newly crowed king will take away the problems, but you don’t see the manipulation of the crown royale. You don’t see how the addiction has become a prison and traps us, yes, other problems seem to disappear, but you don’t see the damage done by this ruthless king because he has blinded you with a false sense of security.
Churches do this when they elevate pastors to places of royalty. Sorry, to tell you, but we are mere mortals not miracle workers. The new pastor comes in crowned the one to save the church. The one to take all that has happened before and create a new land. Churches will throw money to programs and projects that worked in the past and haven’t worked in a decade, because at one time those programs were the shining crown jewels. And as they bow down to these kings, these ones, they begged for, they don’t see the world around them changing and the mission of the church changing. 

Politicians are crowned ever 2, 4, or 6 years to be the next savior of the nation. Each one comes to office wearing the crown. They come to office anointed by the electorate, only to get caught up in the worship of ideology and partisan politics. These kings are the ones who get drunk with power. Who begin to create policy that’s only beholden to the highest bidder, or is guaranteed to slaughter the enemy leaving behind only one choice. 

These “leaders” begin to worship their own image. They bask in the glory that has painted them the savior of their party. The prostitute themselves, selling their souls, and forget that they were once anointed. But like Saul, that anointing can be revoked.

And we do all of this not because we have intended to ignore God, but because we want to see something. We want to put our faith into something tangible. We want to trust that which we can see. That which we can know is there. And we, either on purpose or not, forget the faithfulness of God. We forget that through all of the mess, through all of the upheaval, God is always present and is there to get us through. To get you through. The faithfulness of God is the stead fast rock that will not be moved. And even when we crown kings to be the ones we follow, because we know the rest of the story – the story that those begging Samuel did not know – we have the possibility to depose the kings we adore and again stand on the steadfast rock.

We know, that even while the people forgot God’s faithfulness, God cold not forget God’s promise. God took their mess and even through it made something beautiful. Through their mess God made a way out of no way – God, through the line of a King they were never supposed to have came to earth – brought God’s kingly rule to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. In Jesus we see the result of God’s faithfulness. We see the embodiment of what the Kingdom of God would look like…

God takes this line of kings and through them write the story of God’s faithfulness. We, looking at the rest of the story see how God, in God’s eternal love for God’s people, takes unexpected people – the screw ups – and creates the blood line of God’s incarnated self. We see how, even as a King was not God’s desired plan – God took that screw up and answered the prayers of the people – just not how they could immediately see it. God created the blood line that would lead to the true king being bore in the barn stall of bethlehem. The king who would would ride in to Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. The king that would be crowned on a bloody hill and installed in an empty tomb. Through the bloodline of kings we get the king of kings.

In Jesus we see a king who does the opposite of that which Samuel warns – we have a king who sacrifices himself for his people, who does not enslave but liberates, we have a king who is not a king of battle but the lord of love. Through Jesus we get a peek of what what it is God intends for us. Life, freedom, and love. The hallmarks of the God who died of calvary’s tree. 

The people of Samuel’s age did not know what was to come, they just neglected to remember what had been. They were the children of a faithful God – there were the children who crossed a Red Sea, who wandered through the wilderness to the promised land – led by a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. They were the children who fit the battle of Jericho and lived through the time of the Judges – where were the inheritors of God’s faithfulness yet they forgot and wanted a king.

We have many crowned kings in our lives, but even through the illegitimate coronations – God is faithful. Let us remember that. Let us remember as we come together in worship – as we become part of the story of faithfulness. As we sing the songs of faith, hear the recitation of the Holy Word, as we pray for and with each other and as we eat the Holy Meal – let us always be reminded of the faithfulness of a God who uses even our screw ups to bring about all that is good. It is the faithfulness of God that fills us and sustains us. 

It isn’t the pastor who is going to make the church grow – it is the people of God working together and trusting in God’s faithfulness that will grow and redefine the church.
It isn’t on our own that you will get through the difficult times. The stiff upper lip will only get you so far. The false kings will only continue to battle against you, but it is God’s faithfulness that life up people to walk this journey with you. It is God’s faithful ness that will shine like a pillar of fire leading you to a land of healing and recovery, stability and abundance. And those things won’t be what they world says they look like, but they will be a place of peace that when you get there you will know surely it is God who got yo there.

It isn’t Fox News or the Koch Brothers that will give us true leaders of change. It isn’t the RNC of the DNC that are the arbiters of promise, but it is God faithfulness that will raise up leaders – that will lift up a Joshua or a Deborah; a David or and Esther; an Isaiah or a Mary that will speak truth to power. That will lift up the voices of the voice less. That will be bearers of God’s faithfulness.

Because God’s faithfulness promises liberation from captive kings – will release you from your Babylonia captivity – it will free you from the idolatry of ideology, from the obsessions of society. Through the faithfulness of God you have see the promise that is our future as followers of Christ, you have heard the promise that is to come when in the end we will be raised up at the end of days, but friends – the rest fo the story is that even now we are made free. Our king has come and has freed us from the chains of captive kings, the chains that enslave us and hold us captive. The king of kings and lord of lords has come to embolden the Holy Spirit in us. Because God’s faithfulness frees us to and compels us to be apart of this new and living kingdom. 

For our God is good all the time. All the time our God is good.

Thanks be to God. 

Sermon: A Resurrecting Community

A Resurrecting Community

Ezekiel 37:1-14

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Now, let’s hear that last part again from the JAT translation. 

Then the LORD GOD said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole church. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your hearts, and bring you up from your pews, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Promise. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your hearts, and bring you up from your pews, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.’ 


Today is the feast of Pentecost. It is the day in which we remember the gift of the Holy Spirit given to the apostles in that same upper room where they had been hiding, and today we remember that is was the breath of God, the Ruach of God, the Holy Spirit that resurrected those dry bones of the apostles and pushed them out into the streets to proclaim the promise that is found in the crucified, risen, and ascended Christ. The promise that the young will have visions and the elders will dream dreams. That everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. This is the day of Pentecost. They day of rejoicing in the promise of the Holy Spirit. The person of the trinity who is our helper and sustainer; who gives scared apostles the power to preach through their fear; the breath who life to those bones in the valley. This is the day of Pentecost – the birth of a resurrecting community.

So why is it we cry, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely,” when we ought to be rejoicing that breath has been put in us and we are alive? Why have we, the church, the whole church especially in the United States, become like the old bones in the valley? I think it is because we have forgotten to breathe. We have been holding our breath for so long, trying to do things on our own, on our own terms, by our own rules we have forgotten to breath and let the Holy Spirit do her work. We have strangled out the breath of God – the breath that has been working in the places like the continents of South America, Asia, and Africa. While we have been trying to do it oun our own, the breath of God has been giving life to the places we forget about.

While we are over here strangling ourselves with preachers who claim that if you give the right amount of offering or if you help them buy a $65 million dollar plane you will be blessed. While there are loud and tyrannical voices belching out toxic vitriol that hurricanes and avalanches, earthquakes and tsunamis are cause because of gay marriage or women’s rights; while there are people in the church who use the Bible as a hand grenade instead of a blueprint to salvation; while hiding behind their faith politicians are cutting aid to those most in need and dropping drone driven bombs on innocents – the breath of the Holy Spirit is in place like Ghana where the Ghanaian Baptists are actually teaching people how to fish and building up stronger communities raising up dry bones. She is blowing in Philippines where Samaritana Transformation Ministries has been working quietly for 20 years transforming the lives of sex workers – bringing the hope of new life where there was only a valley of dry bones. The Holy Sprit is breathing life into the church of South Africa the church is working to change a climate of nationalistic violence by empowering leaders who have a vision of God’s Shalom for the world. 

The Holy Spirit is blowing again in Jerusalem as the church is doing its reconciling work bringing Jews, Palestinian, and Christians to the table. She blows in Chile as the church brings healing to those who have suffered for years the hell of political imprisonment. And daily, their numbers are being added to. Yes, there are problems, but more than those problems, there is a recognition that the only way to live is to breath and so the church in Africa, Asia, and South America is breathing deep from the life giving breath of God. And the church in the United States wrings its hands wondering where all the people are. 

The greatest enemy of the church in the United States has not been those who seek social changes, it has not been the creation of subsidized healthcare, or those who fight for marriage equality. No, the greatest enemy of the church in the US has been the church itself. It has forgotten who it is, and has withered away and is now lying in a valley of dry bones alongside all of those it has hurt in the process. Their sinew flayed and nerves exposed, pain and hurt have become the dominant feelings instead of grace and hope.

And this is similar to what was going on in the time of Ezekiel. The priest Ezekiel was among the first of the refugee/prisoners taken from Jerusalem to Babylon, Ezekiel and Jeremiah were contemporaries. He was there as the armies of the foreign empire came in and took over the city of God. And while in Babylon he heard God speak and call him to the prophetic vocation, and the message was that even worse was to come because the people of Judah had become so self-centered. They had turned away from what it is God wanted for them to accomplish – away from what it was God called them to do. They began to see themselves as the crown of creation, the place to be, the place to be seen – and in doing so they forgot that they were supposed to be caring for those in need. 

Things got so bad that that God refused to pay attention to their worship. They were just showing up on Sundays to save face – going through the motions – they were not going to church for true worship of the Living God who rescued them from the slavery of Egypt, who brought them through the wilderness into the promised land. They did not come praise the God who rescued them from the hands of the enemies, who time an again sent judges and kings to rescued them. No – they came to church because it was the thing they had to do and because of that, because their was no heart in their worship they grew arrogant. And they began to behave even worse than those in Sodom. The Lord said through Ezekiel to the people of Jerusalem, “This is the sin of your sister, Sodom – she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They grew arrogant and treated each other as objects.” Things were bad.

Add to this the fact that, now, they were prisoners in a foreign land. Captives to Babylon. Everything they knew had been wiped out – their livelihoods,their homes, their way of life, and even the Temple that they now realized was the house of God. Life had fallen out of them. Breath had left them, and they were rotting in a valley. A dry and dusty valley. Their bones mixing with the bones of all those destroyed in their conquests. There was no life left in them. The mighty had fallen. 

And in the midst of this despair, in the middle of this mess the Lord God reaches out God’s hand and drags Ezekiel to this valley. He pulls the prophet by the and sits him squarely in the middle of this valley of the shadow of death – the dust causing him to cough. The flies biting his skin. The smell of rotting flesh. The pall of darkness that accompanies the grim reaper. And God puts him in the middle of this mess and says to him, “It’s up to you. I need you to trust me. Prophesy to these bones. It is time for some resurrecting. Tell these bones to get up. Tell them to stand up. Tell them it is time for them to rise once again. Say to them, O Dry Bones…GET UP! Hear the word of the Lord – Tell them I am going to re-sculpt you. I am going to put the sinew back on. I am going to cover you with skin. And I am going to breathe life back into you like you have never felt before. I am going to fill your lungs with Holy Breath.”

As Ezekiel said the Thus saith the Lord, the bones began to rattle. Them dry bones began to connect. They began to find their mates. The foot bone connected to heel bone. The heel bone connected to leg bone. The leg bone connected to the knee Bone. The knee bone connected to the thigh none. They thigh bone connected to the hip bone. The hip bone connected to the back bone. The back bone connected to the shoulder bone. The shoulder bone connected to the neck bone. The neck bone connected to the head bone. Now hear the word of the Lord! Them dry bone resurrected and became bodies of men and women. They became the bodies of the fallen Jerusalem. The fallen of Israel. They looked all right, but something was wrong. Something just wasn’t right. 

“God,” said Ezekiel, “God, something ain’t right here. Something is wrong. These folks are looking like they did before Jerusalem fell. They are looking like the same folk that messed things up in the first place.”

“Ezekiel, I ain’t done yet. Prophesy now to the breath, man, and tell the breath: Thus saith the Lord, ‘Come four winds. Come and breath upon these slain. Breathe upon this resurrecting community. That might live.”

And there, in that valley, the wind flew in from all four corners of the earth, and it filled the valley with holy breath. And together, the people of God inhaled that divine breath and something happened. As the Holy Spirit breath made its way into their lungs, their blood vessels, as it made its way into every fiber of their begins they begin to rejoice and praise God like never before. They lifted holy hands and sang to the lord a new song. They knew they had been saved once again and their graves had been flung open. They knew that the Sprit of the lord hand entered into them and they would live. They would live as a resurrecting community.

They began to lives lives of hope and began to trust that the God who raised their dry bones would not stop until they were fully God’s again.

That, friends, is the message for today. That is the Good New. God ain’t done with the church. God ain’t done with you. God ain’t done with me. God is shouting to us DRY BONES, GET UP!!! 

God is say that even though there are buffoons who are claiming to speak in my name they are nothing but false prophets. Hear my word, says the Lord. Get up. Breath this holy breath.

God is saying if you want true prosperity, trust me. It ain’t going to be what those preachers say it looks like, but when you trust me – when your put your faith in me you are going to live a life that will be in touch with eternal life. It will be in touch with prosperity that isn’t of this world, but is of the God who created the cosmos.

God is say my Word is not meant to be something to beat others down with, but is to be used as the bread of life. When it is opened up, holy breath comes out and fills you. 

God is saying it is time for you to get up and breath the breath i am putting in you and live!

So, friends, I am here to let you know that God isn’t giving up on you. God isn’t giving up on the church. God will not let the bride die. God is going to breath life into you like you have never felt. 

Because this is the God who did lead the Israelites across the sea – on dry land.

This is the God who tore down the walls of Jericho.

This is the God who took took some stones and killed a Giant.

This is the God who was there in a fiery furnace.

This is the God who closed the mouth of lions.

This is the God who walked on water.

This is the God who calmed the sea.

This is the God who said to Lazarus – Get up.

This is the God who said to the devil – shut up.

This is the God who said to death – you ain’t no match for me.

This is the God who said – I promise to send you a helper.

This is the God who sent tongues of flame.
This is the God who breathed life in to them dry bones.

So, I’m here to let you know this is the God who is going to touch every cell of your body and bring you a newness of life like you have never experienced. And on top of that this is the God who is going to raise you up into a community of resurrection. A community so filled with the breath of God that they break free from the bonds of this world and all that stands against God and they breath that Holy Breath into every place they touch.

And it starts with one. And then another. And then another. And soon there is a chain reaction of resurrecting happening that hasn’t been seen since the Cave door blew open. 

So, I want to know is there anybody here today in need of some Holy Breath? Is there anybody here today in need of some resurrecting? Are your dry bones longing to breathe again. Is there any body here that needs to hear the word of the Lord.

Now, I want to know is there anybody here who has been touched by the Lord? That has had their lives resurrected? That has been trough the valley of dry bones only to come out on the other side. Is there any body here willing to reach out to one of those who are need of Holy Breath and give some divine CPR? Some resurrecting resection – some prayer?

If you are need of resurrection and you want to feel the breath of God raise your hand and if you are raised up and you want to pray for some of those in need get up. Get up and go to them and share with them the breath of the one who saved you. 

And as you are praying as you are breathing. I want to let you know that this is the church that was there on Pentecost. This is the church that lives. This is the church that breathes. This is the church that will never die. 
This is where the chain reaction of the big bang begins. When one is resurrected then another then another. There will be nothing that can stand in the way of God’s bride. Of the Resurrected church. OF the resurrecting community.

Thanks be to God


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