Author Archives: Rev. Emily Heitzman

About Rev. Emily Heitzman

Follower of Jesus and minister with children, youth, and families at four congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago.

Guest Post at Revgalblogpals: “The Pastoral is Political: #churchtoo”

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Today I’m blogging over at RevGalBlogPals:

“A few weeks ago, spoken word poet Emily Joy and writer Hannah Paasch started the hashtag #churchtoo to offer a space for people to share their experiences of sexual harassment and sexual assault within the church.

Because, yes, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexual abuse of power take place in the church, too. A lot. And when we don’t acknowledge this, call it out, and address it, we send some strong messages that can impact people in very harmful ways – whether they are the victims of sexual abuse or not.”

 

You can read the rest of the post here.

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“Wide Awake” – Sermon on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

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“Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.

So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.

Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.”  

– 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11


 

In the movie “Wide Awake,” there is a 10 year-old boy named Joshua whose beloved grandfather had recently suffered from bone cancer and passed away. Throughout the movie, Joshua has flashbacks of times he spent with his grandfather. One of the most touching flashbacks is when Joshua tells his dying grandfather through tears that he is scared, and when Joshua fearfully asks his grandfather if he, too, is scared, his grandfather replies, “You know I’ll be alright because God will take care of me.”

Yet, after his grandfather passes away, Joshua struggles to find interest in his school and friends, and his parents have to drag him out of bed every morning and encourage him to have some fun. We later find out that Joshua fears that his grandfather is not – indeed – alright. That maybe there is not in fact a God who will take care of him.

Fear had gotten the best of Joshua. And throughout the beginning of the movie, fear consumes him and keeps him from experiencing the joys in the people and the world around him.

*****

Fear.

I think this is at the heart of the situation that Paul is addressing in his first letter to the Thessalonians. You see, these early Christ-followers in Thessalonica had a lot to fear. They had only recently become converts to this new faith movement. And, yet, it is not too long after Paul begins his ministry with them, that he and other leaders start to face severe persecution for teaching about a Messiah who would save God’s people from the oppressive Empire. And soon Paul and the other leaders are kicked out of the city, leaving these early Christ-followers to fend for themselves.

These new Christ-followers are scared. Scared for the safety of their new friends. Scared for their own lives. Scared for their future.

Scared that maybe Paul had gotten it all wrong.

Because if Paul was right about this Jesus being the Son of God, the Messiah – the one who is supposed to come and bring them salvation – then why on earth were they facing persecution for following him? And if Paul was right about this Jesus who is supposed to return again and deliver them from death, then why hadn’t Jesus returned before some of their friends and relatives had already died? What would happen to those deceased friends and family now? Would they be left behind when Jesus comes again?

Fear.

I think this is an unwanted feeling that many of us know too well today… Especially in times like these.

And fear is a natural human feeling.

One that even Paul, Silas, and many of the early Christians most likely felt numerous times. One that even Jesus felt and so honestly expressed while hanging from the cross as he cried out to God before taking his final breath.

We are not alone when we experience feelings of fear.

And fear is a normal human feeling that can guide us in making important choices and taking safety measures when needed.

And yet while this is true, I think we also need to be careful about how much power we allow our fears to have. Because in times like these, it can be incredibly easy to allow our fears to consume us and to take over our lives. Our fears can drag us down into the dark – where we become blind to the needs of those around us. These fears can transform us into being people of the night – as Paul explains in Thessalonians – rather than of the day, where we spend most of our time asleep with our eyes shut to the joys and the beauty in our world.

And this is where I think Gandhi is right in saying that “the enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is fear.”

I think fear can become our enemy when – in times like these – we allow our fears to have power over us. When our fears of failure, change, or the unknown future hold us back from taking chances. Or when our fears of loneliness and rejection hold us back from opening ourselves up to new relationships or publicly standing up against injustices. When we allow our fears about our children’s safety to keep us from letting them try new things and grow up as unique individuals. When our fear that we might not have enough keeps us – as individuals or as a church – from giving to those in need around us. Or when our fears of the “other” blind us so that we don’t see and experience the image of God in our siblings who may appear to be different from us.

I think that while fear is incredibly human, it becomes our enemy when we allow our fears to keep us from actually living.

And so Paul compassionately reassures the Thessalonian Christ-followers that they need not be consumed by fear.

And Paul’s pastoral words to the Thessalonians are also words for us today. Just before our passage today, Paul explains that we must not be uninformed about those who have died and we must not grieve the loss of our loved-ones as others do who have no hope. For we can be assured that “through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.”   When Jesus returns, these beloved ones will not be left behind. For just as Jesus died and resurrected from the dead – so too shall those who have died, be raised from the dead when Jesus comes again. And – as Paul says – for those of us who are alive at Jesus’ return, we – too – will join with those who are already deceased to meet and be with Christ forever.

And this is why we can boldly proclaim with hope the words we confess every week: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Therefore, Paul urges us: “Encourage one another with these words.”

Paul then provides further encouragement in our passage for today.

“Now regarding the times and the seasons,” Paul says, “we will not know the time Jesus will return again. It will happen quickly – when we least expect it – like when a woman’s labor pains suddenly kick in or when a thief appears in the middle of the night.”

However, we must not live without hope and consumed in fear. For – we are not asleep, we are not dead – Paul reminds us. We are not children of the dark, children of the night, where our eyes remain closed to our neighbors needs, the world’s injustices, or to the joys and beauty that surround us. Rather, we are children of the light, children of the day.

“Therefore, let us not fall asleep, as others do,” Paul urges us. “Keep awake.”

*****

Now, you may be wondering what happened to Joshua in the movie Wide Awake. After a while, he finally announces one day that he is going to go on a mission to look for God to make sure his grandpa is okay. And so throughout the rest of the movie, Joshua goes in search for God. And while on his journey, Joshua begins to find some joy through his friends and a new adolescent crush and relationship, whose name – of course – is none other than Hope.

And he eventually gains empathy for those whom he had least expected, including the not-so-popular annoying kid who longs for attention and the class bully that Joshua later realizes is using his aggression to cover his own insecurities and struggles at home. By the end of the movie, Joshua is able to get out of bed easily, have fun with his friends, and find joys in the world around him. And he finally comes to the conclusion that his grandfather is okay because Joshua had found God. Because God had, indeed, been present in the little things in life, through the people he had encountered, and through the empathy and compassion he had shared with others.

At the end of the movie, Joshua explains this as he reads a poem he wrote in class: “I spent this year looking for something, and ended up seeing everything around me. It’s like I was asleep. I’m wide awake now.”

*****

I think this is sort of what Paul is talking about in his letter to the Thessalonians when he encourages his readers to live as children of the day. For – Paul says – we can hold onto the hope that God has not destined for us wrath, but rather God has destined for us salvation through Jesus Christ. A salvation that comes through and because of our Messiah, our loving Lord and Savior, who died for each one of us, so that we might live with him. That not only will we live with God for eternity after we pass on from this world, but that we might also live with and experience God – in the here and now – as we are awake and alive in this world today.

It is for this reason that Paul urges us to be not afraid. To shield our hearts with faith and love.  To protect our minds with the hope of salvation that we have in the promise of Jesus, who died for us so that we might live.

So let us choose to live. To remain wide awake to what’s happening in the world around us.

Let us choose hope over fear.

And therefore, as Paul says, encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are already doing.

Amen.

Reformation 500

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500 years ago today, a monk named Martin Luther publicly protested systemic injustice within the Church. That day, he nailed 95 theses protesting the selling of indulgences – which particularly oppressed the poor and those most vulnerable – to the church doors of the Wittenberg Castle. This act eventually led to reform within the Church (with a capital C).

On this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I both celebrate and confess/grieve.

I celebrate the resistance and reforms of past and present reformers that have and continue to free people from injustice and move our Church and society forward.

At the same time, I confess and grieve the divisions and violence that have taken place within the Church since the Reformation. Something we tend to forget is that Luther did not intend to create new Church denominations… He was resisting oppressive Church systems and only sought to reform the Church. (Yet, he – too – was definitely not perfect, made a lot of mistakes, and had a lot of his own horrific prejudices. So I grieve these, today, as well.)

The Reformation 500 reminds us that the Church was being reformed 500 years ago and is always being reformed, and it reminds us of our call – as Christians – to join the past and present reformers of the Church and society in this holy resistance and reformation work.

One thing I have loved about the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is the strengthening of the Lutheran and Catholic collaboration efforts (which have been going on for many years). Today, I celebrate the commitment our churches are making toward healing past divisions and hurts and toward a more ecumenical united Church.

Tonight at Holy Name Roman Catholic Cathedral in Chicago the ELCA Metro-Chicago Synod Bishop and the Chicago Roman Catholic Archbishop will be co-leading an ecumenical prayer service to commemorate the Reformation together and to renew a covenant between the Chicago Catholic and ELCA churches that was originally signed in 1989.

While I am sad to be missing this powerful prayer service tonight, I am grateful I get to celebrate and renew my commitment to joining so many others in this continuous re-forming of the Church and society with friends/colleagues on our annual new pastor’s retreat.

(And yes, I think these t’s and German & Abbey beer are perfect for the occasion!)

#reformation500 #reformedandalwaysbeingreformed

“Paul, Philippi, and Privilege” – Sermon on Philippians 3:4b-14

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If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.” – Philippians 3:4b-14


This August, I took 24 youth to Dubuque, IA for our third mission/service and learning trip. We had so many wonderful experiences, and I really hope you will stop by founders hall today after worship to watch a slide show from our trip.

Every year we’ve had wonderful experiences in Iowa. However, the first year we went – several years ago, there was one experience that was not as wonderful as the rest.

While in Dubuque, we went to the local YMCA to shower each day after our service projects. At the Y, there was one locker room for girls under 18 years old and one locker room for women above 18. Unfortunately, the girl’s locker room did not have any enclosed showers with doors on them and only had one large open, shared shower.   Since I knew this would not be a very comfortable situation for our girls, I asked the manager months in advance if he would allow our girls to shower in the women’s locker room under my supervision so that they could access the private individual showers that were enclosed with walls and doors. The manager had no problem with this. Unfortunately, while we were in Iowa, two of the women in the locker room did… And what was even more unfortunate was that the manager who gave us permission was out of town that week…

Let’s just say that those two women were not very kind to our girls when they walked out of the showers… Or to me, (or to the rest of the YMCA staff) when they explained to these women that we had received permission because the Y was our only access to showers for the week… (Might I add that these same women were also not very kind to one of our other adult women chaperones when she accidentally dripped some water on the locker room floor when she walked into the locker room from the pool.)

In my conversation with these women, I heard a lot of: “this is the way we have always done it.” “I’ve been a member here for 22 years and it’s my right to be able to come to my locker room without having people like you break the rules.” And “I don’t care if you got permission, this is the rule, and if you don’t like it, then you can leave.”

After talking with the YMCA staff and a few other members later on in the week, we found out that we were not the only ones these women had been snippy with or had thrown a fit about… for various reasons…

These two women were long-term members, had established a set of “rules” – both written and unwritten – about the way things needed to be, and they believed that they had the right to enforce those rules because of their seniority. Newcomers and visitors needed to abide by their rules, and there were no exceptions. Period.

*****

Privilege, entitlement, judgment, closed-mindedness, exclusion. These are some of the themes we see in this scenario that took place at the YMCA several years ago. And to be honest, I think these are some of the themes we see quite a bit today as our country is trying to determine who is welcome to live in this country, who gets to receive needed services and has particular rights, which victims of natural disasters should receive aid, who and how people should speak up against injustice, and how we might address local gun violence and world violence. And the list could go on.

And this scenario at the YMCA also reminds me of the situation Paul is addressing in his letter to the Philippian church. You see, the city of Philippi was in the center of Macedonia, and yet since it was considered a colony of the Roman Empire, all residents had Roman citizenship and therefore received the benefits that were awarded to the citizens of Rome, such as property rights, exemption from taxes that were enforced upon non-citizens of Rome, and civil and legal protections. Because of this, most citizens of Philippi were very proud of their Roman citizenship, viewed themselves as the elite residents of the preeminent city in the center of Macedonia, and often boasted about their status.

In addition to this, as with a few other churches Paul communicated with, within the church at Philippi there were some Christians who were insisting that any converts to Christianity must first take on the Jewish identity, such as observing the Jewish Sabbath and dietary laws and being circumcised, a practice that was viewed by many Greeks as revolting. In some instances where non-Jewish Christians did not observe such laws and chose not to be circumcised, they were deemed as “un-savable,” inferior to those who were “saved,” and were even excluded from meals and other gatherings. (Acts 15:1)

So, as we can see, the members of the church of Philippi inherited privileges (that many other Christians in Macedonia lacked) and were proud because these privileges elevated their social status above the others. And it is possible that they were using some of those privileges to exclude others from their community, unless these “others” first gave up their own identities and became like “one of them.”

*****

Now, I can imagine many of us here have encountered modern-day prideful Philippians at least at one point in our lives. I imagine many of us at one time or another have known someone who has been excluded from a group or discriminated against because of their identities or lack of societal status — or some of us have even experienced this ourselves.

And yet, I wonder if any of us here can also see ourselves in the Philippian Christians. I wonder if we – too – have inherited privileges that allow us to enjoy benefits and opportunities that others around us cannot enjoy: Whether we benefit from the privileges of being white, male, Christian, heterosexual, cis-gender, or having socially accepted body weight and abilities – where we have never felt unsafe, been shamed by others, or discriminated against because of our identities or abilities. Or maybe we benefit from the privileges of being educated, employed, economically stable, or a U.S. citizen, where we are granted the rights of these statuses and never have to worry about putting food on our tables, losing our homes, or being deported back to very dangerous situations.

And within the church, some of us may even have the privilege of growing up in a Christian congregation and knowing the Christian lingo, being involved in the Lutheran denomination for as long as we can remember and knowing its rituals, or even worshipping here at Immanuel Lutheran Church for years and knowing its expectations and unwritten rules that newcomers do not know.

We might even sometimes expect that those newcomers must also act, talk, dress, worship, and think like we do in order for them to be fully included into our community or worship gathering.

And there may be some of us here who know what it is like to work really hard throughout our education process and our careers, are involved in our communities, and are pleased at how far we have come. And so it’s no wonder that there might be times when we feel so proud about our resumes and status that we can’t help but boast about our achievements.

It’s easy and very tempting when things go well in our lives to look at ourselves as better than those whose situations are not like our own and to look at those “others” with judgment… They are “lazy” or “not smart enough”; she has “poor leadership;” she isn’t making the “right” choices; he isn’t standing up for just causes in a “respectable” way, the way I would – we might think or say. And so we victim blame. They got themselves into these difficult situations. And as we point fingers at those people while we uplift our own choices, we often do so without recognizing our own inherited privileges – that so many others lack – and yet that have enabled us (maybe even with a lot of hard work) to get to where we are now.

*****

And yet, for Paul, there is no room for finger pointing and boasting. No matter how impressive one’s resume or achievements are, no matter what community or “club” one is a member – or citizen – of, and no matter if one makes all sorts of the “right choices” (based on certain people’s standards) that have gotten that person to a comfortable and elevated place in society– according to Paul, this all counts for nothing.

Of all people, Paul knows this. At the beginning of our passage, Paul states that if anyone has the right to have confidence in the flesh (meaning confidence in one’s circumcision or Jewish identity markers, human achievements, or societal status) – if anyone has the right to be prideful of and boast about such things – it is Paul, himself, who has more. For it is Paul who has quite the extensive resume, as we see in our passage for today.

And yet, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul acknowledges his privilege that enabled him to reach such a worldly status and says whatever societal and religious “gains” he once had, he now regards as loss because of Christ. These “gains” no longer matter. They are rubbish, or in a more accurate translation and more crude terms: they are dung, horse manure… or whatever other four letter word that comes to your mind.

Contrary to his old understanding, Paul has not gained righteousness by making the “right choices” determined by the law that elevated his worldly status. Righteousness does not come from anything he has done to achieve it. Rather, Paul says: righteousness comes through faith in Christ – or, as some translators suggest: it comes through “the faithfulness of Christ.”

In other words, righteousness comes through the faith in or faithfulness of the One who came to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, give sight to the blind, and set the oppressed free. It comes through and because of the One who spoke out against all forms of violence and challenged the unjust hierarchical structures – both in Rome and the Temple – that created class systems of privilege, which elevated and cared for only some while marginalizing others. Righteousness comes through and because of the One who boldly and loudly proclaimed justice on behalf of the “least of these,” even though his radical teachings and actions ultimately led him to his arrest and eventual death on the cross. It comes through and because of the One who – through his resurrection – conquers injustice and death and brings forth new life, which is both that which is to come and that which liberates us from all the hate – the isms and phobias – that cause us to experience death here and now.

Righteousness comes through the One who calls all of his followers to choose this resurrection life that proclaims love, peace, and life-giving justice for all of God’s children, especially in a world where evil and suffering seem to overcome us. Because – as we see in Jesus’ resurrection – death does not have the final say. And we – as resurrection people – are called and gifted with the ability to share this good news of hope to a hurting world.

And so counter to what the world says, it no longer matters what our resume looks like, how much education we might or might not have, what our heritage, identity, or worldly status is, how long we have been in or out of the faith community, or whether or not we know the Christian lingo and rituals.

In Christ and because of Christ, we are all invited to the Table.

Now – according to Paul – what does matter is the way we live. And the way we love. That we become like Christ in his death. That we come to know him and be transformed by his compassion and the power of his resurrection – and in doing so – that we might emulate and share that love to all of God’s children, especially to those who are suffering the most.

What does matter is that we continue to learn about and acknowledge our privileges that have helped us get to where we are today and allow that acknowledgement of our privilege shape the way we look at, care for, love and stand in solidarity with others who walk through this world differently than we do. That we begin to listen to those voices around us that are not being heard or represented. That we begin to use our privilege to help right wrongs so that Christ’s liberating resurrection may not just be experienced in the future, but that it will also begin to be experienced by all in the here and now.

This is not an easy task, and we cannot just reach our goal with the snap of our fingers. It’s a process. It’s a life-long race that we cannot run on our own: it’s one we must pursue together.

And as we do, we must remember – as Paul explains – that we may never quite reach the finish line and obtain the prize at the end of the race. But, as we continue to learn how to take our eyes off the worldly values of our past, learn from our mistakes when we stumble or fall off the path, and let go of the guilt that sometimes weighs us down when we begin to acknowledge our privilege, we must press on toward the goal of the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

And this is true – even and especially in times such as these – when evil and injustice overwhelm us and we feel so overcome by hopelessness and helplessness. And so in times such as these, may we sing and cling to the words of the late rocker Tom Petty: “Well, I won’t back down. You can stand me up at the gates of hell, but I won’t back down. No, I’ll stand my ground. Won’t be turned around. And I’ll keep this world from draggin me down, gonna stand my ground. Hey, there ain’t no easy way out. But I won’t back down. Well I know what’s right. I got just one life, in a world that keeps on pushin me around, but I’ll stand my ground. And I won’t back down.”

Amen.

 

 

“Word and Deed” – Sermon on Matthew 16:13-20

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“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” – Matthew 16:13-20


I don’t know about for you, but this passage is quite familiar to me. And one of the most popular claims I’ve heard about it is that this text is about Peter’s faith and great confession and it has been used as an example of how we might have faith in Jesus and confess who he is.

According to this interpretation, this passage is a turning point for Peter. After all, it was only a few chapters earlier when Jesus told Peter that he had little faith because he lacked trust in Jesus when he feared walking on water. Yet, here, in Matthew 16, Peter finally confesses who Jesus really is. When Jesus asks the disciples “who do you say that I am?” Peter speaks for the disciples and replies, “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

So it seems to make sense that this passage is about Peter’s turning point, faith, and confession.

However, if we look at the passage that immediately follows this one, we might see that there is something more to this passage. Starting in vs. 21, Jesus begins to tell the disciples that he MUST journey toward Jerusalem, suffer and die in the hands of the religious leaders, and be raised on the third day.

We would think that a disciple who truly understands who this Jesus – the Messiah, the Son of the living God – is, would accept what Jesus has to say about his mission – even if this disciple does so with reluctance and sadness. However, to our surprise, Peter responds to this by rebuking Jesus and saying: “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen!” And to our even greater surprise, Jesus responds to Peter by calling him Satan and saying he is a stumbling block for only setting his mind on human things rather than on divine things.

And this isn’t the only time Peter does not seem to get it. For we all know it is HE who denies Jesus three times after Jesus gets arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane.

So maybe our Gospel text this morning is not just about Peter’s confession about who Jesus is. Maybe it’s about something more.

*****

To better understand, we need to consider what these titles given to Jesus in Peter’s “confession” meant to both Peter and Jesus.

According to one source, (the Harper Collins Bible Dictionary) the Messiah was an “anointed agent of God, appointed to a task affecting the lot.” However, the title “Messiah” did not always suggest a divine being. In Ancient Israel/Palestine, this title referred to priests, anointed men who were kings of Israel, prophets, and even to the pagan king, Cyrus. It is not until the Babylonian Exile – where the Israelites were taken from their homeland and longed to return – when the Israelites began to write about a coming Messiah who would be their Savior in the midst of great suffering. And it is not until we read Paul’s letters when we begin to hear that Jesus, the Christ (which is the Greek translation for “Messiah”), is the one who fulfilled the Palestinian Jewish expectations of the coming Messiah.

The title “Son of God” is similar in that it was also used to allude to numerous persons and positions in Ancient Israel, including angels, monarchs when they were enthroned, and people who were considered to be righteous. According to one source, by the first century, this title referred to “a person or a people with a special relationship to God, often with a special role in salvation history.” (Harper Collins Bible Dictionary)

In order to better understand the importance of these titles, we might also consider the location in which Peter made this confession, Caesarea Phillipi. This city was the worldwide center of the Pagan religion that worshipped Pan, the god of shepherds and flocks. This religion involved lustful acts that followers would perform in order to worship Pan. In addition to this, the city represented the imperial power of the Roman Empire, which created a strong dominating hierarchy that uplifted the wealthy and the elite and oppressed the poor, the sick, and the outcasts of society. In fact, the city was given its name by King Herod the Great’s son, Phillip, when he came to power… And you can probably guess who it was named after: Caesar…and Phillip, himself.

Two temples stood in Caesarea Phillipi: one to honor and worship Caesar the great leader of the Empire and the other to honor and worship Pan. This city was basically considered the Sin City of its day, and most Jews would have completely avoided going there.

So, as you can see, this is not the place you might expect Jesus Christ, the Jewish Rabbi who was said to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God, to take his disciples to and ask them to confess who he really is. We might think that the Temple or one of the synagogues would have been a better place.

And yet, I think it is quite intentional that Jesus took his disciples to Caesarea Phillipi to reveal his identity to them. You see, in the Roman Empire, people were often forced to worship the empire and it’s leaders. Many of the leaders were even given titles such as “Savior,” “Lord,” and “Son of God.”

What’s more is that in Caesarea Phillipi, there was a cave where Pan was worshipped with a spring that flowed from it. The spring was thought to flow from underground – a place the Greeks referred to as Hades, and where the gods would spend their winters. And the source of the spring was called the Gates of Hades, the same phrase Jesus speaks of in our text.

 *****

Now in our passage for today, Jesus goes on to tell Simon Peter that his name shall be Peter, which means rock. And it is upon this rock – or Peter, the spokesperson of the disciples – where Jesus will build his Church. And nothing – not even the Gates of Hades – the location where the pagan gods representing imperial, oppressive power and where the gods exit and enter Hades – not even these gates will prevail against this body of Christ.

You see, it seems as though Caesarea Phillipi is the intentional place for Jesus’ identity to be revealed. It is here in the midst of this imperial and pagan center, where Jesus asks his disciples who they say he is, and Peter answers that it is Jesus – not the Caesar or Pan – who is the Messiah, the Son of the living God! It is this Jesus Christ, who will be the one who saves the people who are suffering from this oppressive empire and who is worthy of worship. And not even Rome or Jupiter or any other gods or imperial worldly powers will be able to prevail against him!

And we see throughout Matthew, that it is this Jesus Christ, the Messiah, who begins to bring about a new kingdom, the Kingdom of God, a kingdom so opposite of the oppressive Roman Empire that dominated over those on the margins.

A Kingdom that will even oppose, challenge, and tear down the hierarchical powers and forces of that Empire.

And this new kingdom is one where Jesus, the only truly great ruler and king – rules not with a militaristic, exclusive, and dominating power over others. But rather rules with love and equality and lives with and uplifts the poor and sick, the women and widows, the immigrants and ethnic minorities – those who were considered the last and least in society.

 *****

Now, we have come a long way since the first century. So it may seem very difficult for us to understand or even comprehend the repercussions of such a violent and oppressive Empire. And yet, I don’t think we have to listen too long to the local, national, and international news before we start to realize that the United States is dangerously moving toward a modern day Roman Empire.

Because don’t we live in a country where status and capitalism are often worshiped… And so while it is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, only a few individuals have the majority of wealth in this country while so many individuals are left without enough of an income to buy food for their families, provide housing, or afford adequate health care.

Don’t we live in a country with more resources than much of the rest of the world can even comprehend and with a fairly low population density.  And yet, when 1000s of families from across the world seek refuge from war, we refuse to open our borders and when 1000s of unaccompanied children desperately cross the border in order to flee violence, we detain them, threaten to build a wall, and look at rescinding the DACA program, which protects immigrants without documentation who came to the US as children.

Don’t we live in a country where racism continues to prevail so much throughout our systems, that a sheriff is pardoned for his Civil Rights abuses – even though he had openly been racially profiling Latinx individuals and had bragged about mistreating Latinx folks while holding them in what he called a “concentration camp.” And don’t we live in a country where even when racism takes shape in such overt forms as what took place in Charlottesville – where the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and other white supremacists held tiki torches and chanted: “Blood and soil,” “Jews will not replace us,” and other horrific anti-LGBTQIA chants – even then, this white supremacist terrorism is downplayed by many, including by some of our highest political leaders?

Don’t we live in a country that proclaims its moral superiority over other nations and yet it spends more on the military than the next eight countries combined?

Today, our worship of the Caesars and Pan gods in the United States – our worship of capitalism, power, wealth, religion, and race – not only push so many people in our own country into the margins of society, but our nationalism – our worship of our country – leads us to view other nations and people of other ethnic and racial backgrounds as inferior to us and as less human than we are.

While it is okay and even important for us to recognize and be thankful for the many blessings we do have in our lives, we must always remember that while we may sing “God bless America,” God does not bless American any more than any other nation. And, as followers of Jesus, we can never worship a nation, social status, wealth, capitalism, a particular racial or ethnic group, or any other Caesar or pagan god. Because it is Jesus Christ – the Messiah, the Son of the living God – not Caesar or Pan, not the United States or any other nation, not our material possessions or our successful careers, not our military weapons, borders, politicians, or our powerful police forces. It is Jesus Christ and it is ONLY Jesus Christ who is our Lord and Saviour.

We hear this truth proclaimed throughout the Scriptures, and we particularly hear it preaching out of our text in Matthew today.

 *****

But our message does not end here with this confession of Peter about who Jesus is. As Jesus is about to start his journey to Jerusalem and toward the cross, he tells Peter an important thing: that although Jesus will leave this earth, his ministry of challenging and breaking down the oppressive imperial walls and forces and of spreading his good news of love and justice to ALL people – is not over.

This ministry will continue. It will first continue through Peter and the disciples who will be the rock on which Jesus will begin to build the Church… But it will also continue through all of Jesus’ disciples.

No longer does it matter that Caesar holds the keys to an oppressive kingdom that excludes those on the margins of society, because now it is Peter and ALL of Jesus’ followers who hold the keys and opens the doors to a new Kingdom that is built on love, peace, equality, and justice.

*****

So we can see that our passage in Matthew begins with a confession, but it ends with commission. A commission not just to Peter, not just to the other eleven disciples, but to all of us who truly proclaim that it is Jesus – the Messiah, the Son of the living God – and it is ONLY this Jesus – who is our Lord.

We may wonder how on earth we are to respond to this commission. For some of us, it might start with listening to the voices around us who are being shut out and recognizing the Caesars and Pan gods we currently worship, benefit from, and/or defend… and learning to give them up. For others of us, it might be figuring out how to tear down the imperial powers that oppress and push people to the margins in Chicago, in the U.S., and throughout the world by learning about and spreading the word about such injustice, signing petitions, and standing with others at marches that demand justice. For others it might be figuring out how to open the doors of this Kingdom of God to the people in our midst who are being excluded by our present-day imperial systems.

However we may do it, we – as followers of Jesus – are called to not just confess who Jesus Christ is, but we are also called to respond to his great commission. So let us not just leave this place and go back to our busy schedules forgetting what we have heard and confessed this morning. But let us boldly and loudly respond to Jesus Christ, our Messiah, the Son of the Living God, both in word and in deed.

Amen.

 

 

“Jerkiness and a Persistent and Resistant faith” – Sermon on Matthew 15:10-21

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Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.” – Matthew 15:10-21

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

*****

Some of you might not like this… But I’m going to be quite frank…

Jesus is being a real jerk right now!

Now, before you immediately get up and storm out of the sanctuary… try to bare with me for a bit.

You see, in our Gospel this morning, there is this woman who approaches Jesus when he enters the district of Tyre and Sidon, the region where this woman is from. She cries out to Jesus: “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David. My daughter is tormented by a demon.”

But even though she’s distraught, Jesus just ignores her and says nothing.

You have to admit: that’s kind of a jerky thing to do.

But if you start to think that is not so bad… Jesus is probably just busy and overwhelmed from all the difficult ministry he’s been doing, just wait for what happens next.

After this woman continues to persist and the disciples approach Jesus and urge him to send her away, Jesus finally responds, saying: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In other words, he’s saying: my good news and mercy is only for some, only for those who are a part of my flock. Since you are an outsider, it is not for you.

Seriously, Jesus!?

But if you think that is still not too terrible… Jesus must have had so much to do that he had to make some priorities in his ministry, just wait for what comes next.

Because when the woman hears this, she drops to her knees before Jesus’ feet and desperately pleads with Jesus: “Lord, help me.” And you know how Jesus replies to her? He says: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Yep, you heard that right. Jesus just called this woman a dog… which might as well have been that five-letter word your parents caught you saying as a middle schooler before they washed your mouth out with soap…

Now, our first reaction is probably to defend Jesus. Because… well, he’s Jesus, for heaven sakes! Jesus is our savior, our refuge, the one who came to protect us.

So how on earth could Jesus treat this woman in such a manner?!

And so when we can’t come up with any decent reasons for why Jesus would do such a thing, it seems that the only natural thing to do is to start blaming this woman. She must have deserved this treatment.

And so if we look at our text, we see that she was shouting… And this is actually the reason the disciples urged Jesus to send her away. Because: “She keeps shouting at us,” they tell Jesus.

Well, this seems to make a little more sense… This woman must be to blame. She was being too aggressive. She should have kept her tone down. She should have spoken nicer. She shouldn’t have been so angry.

And as a Canaanite – who is considered unclean by the Israelites – she shouldn’t even be around the Israelites. And as a woman, it was absolutely uncalled for for her to have approached a man, let alone a rabbi!

I think that finding reasons to blame this woman for Jesus’ words and actions seems to be our natural response… because this kind of victim blaming happens so often today.

“They wouldn’t be jobless and homeless if they were not so lazy.”

“They wouldn’t have been shot by the police if they just didn’t run the other direction.”

“They shouldn’t have protested so loudly. They shouldn’t be so angry. They should be more kind, more gentle, more calm…”

They should do things the way we would have done them.

But the thing is, if we are honest with ourselves, would we do things differently if we really were in the other person’s shoes? Would we obey all the laws, even if the laws were oppressive to us and to our families? Would we be less angry and would we respond more calmly if we were actually up against systems that dehumanize and harm us and that ignore and blame us when we call out this injustice?

If we are honest with ourselves, wouldn’t we – like the Canaanite woman – start shouting if our daughter was possessed by a demon? Wouldn’t we do everything in our power to find a way to heal her – even if that meant doing some things that broke the socially accepted “norms?” And when the world around us ignores or blames us – because – we are “doubly marginalized” as the Canaanite woman – wouldn’t we raise our voices in order to make sure SOMEONE actually begins to listen to us? Wouldn’t we do whatever we could to protect our child, whose life is being threatened by violence, evil, and injustice?

Wouldn’t we persist and resist?

As jerky as Jesus might have been in this situation, I think Jesus must have understood where the Canaanite woman was coming from. Because despite all the reasons why it was culturally inappropriate for her to be doing what she was doing and despite that she was distracting Jesus and the disciples while they were trying to do their ministry, Jesus doesn’t start victim blaming and shaming her. And he doesn’t even send her away when the disciples urge him to do so.

… So … maybe Jesus is not being a complete jerk.

But that still doesn’t take away from him ignoring her and then calling her a dog. So there must be another reason the woman deserved this treatment.

She was – after all – a Canaanite woman. And Canaanites were not only considered unclean to Jews, but they were also considered enemies.

In fact, it was actually quite common for Jews to call Canaanites dogs.

And so, while this was a misogynistic and racial slur, it would not have been a shock for the disciples or even for the Canaanite woman to hear Jesus say it.

So I guess that Jesus must not have been trying to be a jerk. Jesus was just a product of his culture, using language that was common and normal for his time.

But… that still just does not sit too well with me. To me, it feels like Jesus is still being… kind of a jerk.  (Just unintentionally.)

However – this – I believe – is where the good news comes in.

Because honestly, I can be kind of a jerk sometimes, too… And – not always – but most of the time my jerkiness is unintentional.

Because – like Jesus – I am a product of my culture.

I still unintentionally think, say, and do things that are racist or homophobic or transphobic or ablest. Or anti-Semitic or Islamophobic or classist or ethnocentric… and the list goes on. Not because I’m a terrible person. Not because I wish to be these things. It’s actually quite the opposite. I don’t want to be this way. But I do these things because I live in a country where these isms and phobias have been deeply engrained in our culture and in our systems for hundreds of years. And while we have made a lot of progress over those several hundred years, we still have a very long way to go. Because those isms and phobias don’t just go away at the drop of a hat.

And as a white, straight, cis-gendered, able bodied, middle class, Christian, who is a citizen of this country, I have so much privilege that enables me to benefit from our country’s systems… systems that actually marginalize, harm, and oppress people without these privileges. And my privilege often blinds me from seeing this reality and often keeps me from fully understanding and even at times believing the experiences of those who don’t have these privileges. Because it’s hard to be aware of and understand experiences of others that are very different from our own. To do so takes a lot of intentionality and a lot of hard work. And it is a life-long process that we must work at every day. Because even when I do this hard anti-racism and anti-hate work, I still live with privilege and still look at the world through a privileged lens.

But this is where Jesus being kind of a jerk in our Gospel today is good news. It is through Jesus’ jerkiness where we see a part of Jesus’ humanity. Because yes, we proclaim that Jesus was fully divine. But we also proclaim that he was fully human. And aren’t humans products of our culture? And isn’t it human to say and do things that are racist, misogynist and ethnocentric without meaning to be? Especially when our culture and systems shape us this way?

This does not – by any means – mean it’s okay and excusable to think, say and do these things.

But it does mean that if Jesus – our Lord and Savior – the Son of the Living God – was a product of his culture and unintentionally said and did things that are kind of jerky: racist, misogynistic and ethnocentric, then it means that maybe I can recognize, admit, and confess that as a human – particularly one with a lot of privilege – I still do these things, too, even when I try so hard not to.

And this is good news because recognizing and confessing this about ourselves is our first step in being able to free ourselves from the bondage that privilege and all the isms and phobias have on us. And it is also the first step we need to take in order to dismantle hate. We have to first look at ourselves and recognize and confess how we are participating in and contributing to oppressive systems or how we are enabling any form of hate.

Because dismantling racism and homophobia and transphobia and ableism and anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and nationalism does not only involve calling out extremist groups that march in the streets with tiki torches chanting hateful chants.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We absolutely do need to call out that kind of hate for what it is and denounce it. What happened in Charlottesville last weekend (which quite honestly happens much more often than we’d like to admit in our country) is – in fact – evil. There absolutely were two sides in Charlottesville last weekend. There was the side of the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and other white supremacists who were chanting “blood and soil,” “Jews will not replace us,” and other horrific anti-LGBTQIA chants that I won’t repeat. And then there was the side of those who were resisting that hate. It’s very clear which side is demonic, hateful, and wrong.

But our work of dismantling hate cannot just end after we call out these extremists and denounce their actions. Because another danger that comes with this territory is when we just point our fingers at “those racists” and “those anti-Semites” and those “homophobics” and say that those extremist “fringe” groups are wrong… and then at the same time say “but I’m not like them so I’m not racist or anti-Semitic or homophobic or fill-in-the-blank.”

Because we will never be able to dismantle hate if we deny our own part in it.

Another danger that comes with this territory is when we point our fingers at these extremists and then just ignore our uncle’s racist jokes or our friend’s transphobic facebook posts because our uncle and our friend are “not like those extremists” and their jokes and posts seem to be “harmless.” Because the truth is: no racist or transphobic post or stereotype is harmless – no matter one’s intensions. It is those unchecked jokes and stereotypes and unintentionally harmful things we say, think, and do that lead to the kind of “othering” that hurts our siblings and that enables and normalizes extremist acts and other forms of systemic injustice.

So let us choose to not be silent. Let us choose to call out all forms of isms and phobias – including those within ourselves. Let us choose to not allow our own isms and phobias to hold us captive and dominate who we are.

*****

And so this is where I would like us to look back at Jesus in our Gospel text for today. For I think if we continue to look at what happens in our story and throughout the rest of Matthew, we will see Jesus modeling for us how we might go about doing this anti-hate work.

You see, even though Jesus starts off this morning being a bit of a jerk, we can learn a lot from what happens next. When Jesus tells the Canaanite woman: “it’s not fair to take food from the children’s table and feed it to the dogs,” she responds strongly:

“Yes, Lord. Yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

In other words, this Canaanite woman is saying to Jesus that there is room at the table for her, too.

In other words, nevertheless, she persisted and is reclaiming her time.

And in doing so, as she demands that Jesus’ good news and mercy is not just for some, but is for all, guess how Jesus responds…

He doesn’t victim blame her or shun her for breaking the cultural and religious rules and norms. He doesn’t just send her away as the disciples urged him to do or continue to ignore her as he had once done. He doesn’t get defensive and try to explain how he wasn’t being exclusive or racist or misogynist.

Instead, he listens to her. He learns from her. And he changes because of her.

He allows her to open his eyes to his own privilege in that space and to his own participation in oppressive and exclusive systems. He praises her great faith for her holy persistence and resistance. And then he joins her in it: first by healing this Canaanite woman’s daughter and then – as we see throughout the rest of Matthew – by proclaiming a more inclusive Kingdom. One that is not just for the lost sheep of Israel, but that is also for the Canaanites, the Gentiles, the women, the outsiders, the marginalized… A Kingdom that is full of good news and mercy for not just some, but for ALL.

Yes, Jesus was being a bit of a jerk this morning. But he also shows us what it is like to be human. And that – as humans – we don’t have to be bound by our own jerkiness and allow it to keep us from dismantling hate.

We have so much to learn from this event in Matthew. So may we learn from Jesus, his jerkiness, and his conversion. May we learn from the Canaanite woman and her bold persistence and resistance. And may we learn from all those who are persisting and resisting around us as we join them in this holy work.

*****

There is a voice I think we can learn from that I’d like to leave you this morning with the words spoken this week by the mother of Heather Heyer, the woman who was murdered in Charlottesville last weekend for resisting hate.

“Here’s what I want to happen,” she says during her speech at Heather’s funeral. “You ask me what can I do? So many caring people, pages of pages of pages of stuff I’m going through… how [Heather’s] touching the world. I want this to spread. I don’t want this to die. This is just the beginning of Heather’s legacy. This is not the end of Heather’s legacy. You need to find in your heart that small spark of accountability. What is there that I can do to make the world a better place? What injustice do I see? I don’t want you to turn away [and say]: “I don’t really want to get involved in that. I don’t really want to speak up, they’ll be annoyed with me. My boss might think less of me….” I don’t care. You poke that finger at yourself like Heather would have done and you make it happen. You take that extra step. You find a way to make a difference in the world…

Let’s have the uncomfortable dialog. It ain’t easy sitting down and saying “why are you upset?” It ain’t easy sitting down and going: yeah, well I think this way and I don’t agree with you but I’m going to respectfully listen to what you have to say. We’re not all going to sit around shaking hands and singing kumbaya. I’m sorry, it’s not all about forgiveness, I know that is not a popular trend. But the truth is we are going to have our differences, we are going to be angry with each other. But let’s channel that anger not into hate. Not into violence, not into fear.

But let’s channel that anger into righteous action…. Remember in your heart (as Heather liked to say): if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. And I want you to pay attention, find what’s wrong. Don’t ignore it. Don’t look the other way. You make a point to look at it and say to yourself: what can I do to make a difference? And that is how you’re going to make my child’s death worthwhile.”

Guest Post at Revgalblogpals: “The Pastoral is Political: Peace for Gaza”

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I’m blogging over at revgalblogpals:

“Imagine an area of land that is only a mere 360 kilometers, is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, and is surrounded by a tall barrier wall that shuts those who live inside the borders out from the rest of the world.

Here, you will find mass destruction of buildings and tens of thousands of people who are displaced. You will find one of the world’s highest unemployment rates, and you will see that more than half the population is food-insecure and more than 80% of the population relies on humanitarian assistance. You will discover that most hospitals have severe shortages on equipment and fuel, and thus must limit their care for patients and could potentially risk closure.”

You can read the rest of the post here.

“No Justice, No Peace” – Sermon on Matthew 10:24-39

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“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” – Matthew 10:24-39


“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to this earth,” we hear Jesus telling the twelve disciples in Matthew this morning. “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”

Whew, this is a tough text to preach on!

Breaking up of families. Not bringing peace to this world, but rather division and a violent sword. This seems harsh.

And these words of Jesus have often been used by some Christians to justify war or the breaking up of families because a parent is undocumented or because a family member comes out about their sexual orientation or gender identity. And the list can go on.

But the thing is, if we read the rest of the Gospels, this message seems so out of character for Jesus, the one who proclaims good news to the poor and who brings liberation for the oppressed. The one who commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to welcome the stranger, to feed the hungry, to provide health care to those who are sick. The one who sought to tear down walls that marginalize and who risked his life so that the world might be saved.

And taken literally and out of context, these words we hear this morning are out of character for Jesus. They totally contradict who he is and what he is all about.

And so we need to look a little closer at the context of our passage in order to better understand what Jesus really was referring to here.

You see, our text this morning comes a bit after our Matthew text we heard last Sunday. Just last week we saw Jesus summoning the Twelve together and commissioning them to continue Jesus’ work in the world.

And now today we hear Jesus telling the disciples about what it actually means to be a disciple: one who will bring the good news of Jesus out from the dark and into the light and who will not just whisper Jesus’ good news to those who are willing to hear it, but who will proclaim it from the housetops for all to hear… no matter how people might receive this good news and no matter how they might respond when they do hear it.

And, as Jesus explains this, he gives the Twelve a sharp warning about what they will likely face when they do follow Jesus in this good news work.

And it’s not pretty.

Just before today’s passage, Jesus says to the Twelve: “See I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves. Beware of those who will hand you over to councils and flog you in the synagogues. You will be dragged before governors and kings because of me. People will hate you because of my name. Some of you will be betrayed even by those you love. Even brothers will betray brothers, fathers will betray children, and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death.”

Why? – we might ask. Because Jesus’ good news is subversive and it disrupts. It challenges the status quo and is a threat to the Empire and those who hold power in it. And when one proclaims this good news from the housetops, there are going to be people who will get ticked off and will resist it… and often will do so with force.

You see, being a disciple of Jesus is risky business. And this is what Jesus is warning the Twelve – and all of us – about in our passage this morning.

Because to be his disciple is to choose to speak as Jesus speaks. To make peace in this world as Jesus – the Prince of Peace – makes. A peace that is not about making sure everyone is happy and being careful not to ruffle any feathers. No, Jesus did not come here to keep the peace. Rather he came here to make peace. A kind of peace that is – in fact – quite dangerous and – for Jesus and his earliest disciples – would bring about the sword from those who found it threatening. Jesus came here to make peace – a kind that will end up causing divisions – even among close family members and friends. A kind of peace that will bring about facebook wars and twitter trolls, uncomfortable holiday dinners, and changed relationships.

Because to Jesus: when there is no justice, there is no peace.

And – as we know too well today – justice does not always win the seat of power.

“But have no fear,” Jesus urges us. “For nothing is covered up that will not eventually be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not eventually become known.”

In other words: the truth will set us free.

Therefore, we should not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, we hear Jesus tell us. We should not fear those who will lash out at us for bringing truth to the light and proclaiming Jesus’ good news from the housetops. We should not let our fear of what others will think of us, or what they will tweet about us, or how they will respond to us, hold us back from making Jesus’ kind of peace in this world.

Instead, he urges us to only worry about how God sees us. For we are beloved. We are cherished. God loves the tiny sparrows. And yet, we are more valuable than many sparrows in God’s eyes. For even the hairs on our head are all counted.

“So,” Jesus concludes: “Take up the cross and follow me. Those who will find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Now, I want to stop right here for a minute. Because this statement has often been used to make a few particularly dangerous claims. I want to make it very clear that Jesus is not saying here that anyone who chooses to follow him must stop taking care of herself or must give up her creativity, unique identity, or deny who God created her to be. And in this important statement, Jesus is not glorifying or condoning self-mutilation, abuse, injustice, or human suffering.

Jesus is actually saying quite the opposite.

He is saying that as followers, we must deny our old selves that make the Gospel centered on us while marginalizing others.

We must deny our constant desire to have power over others. We must stop trying to save our egos by striving to always be first: to be the most successful, to have the biggest home, to be the smartest, to be the most faithful. We must give up our need to always be liked by everyone.

We often tend to look at God and conform God into the way we see fit, to the way we want God to be. We put God in our own image. We speak for God with our own interests and needs in mind. We make God look like us.

But the hard reality is that we – as humans – were made in God’s image. Not the other way around. And when we start to deny our old self-centered selves and take up our cross, we actually become more human. We stop reflecting our sometimes grandiose views of self and we actually allow ourselves to reflect the image and love of God in Christ.

To follow Jesus, we need to take up our own cross. For the early disciples, the cross represented death. And as we now know… What comes after Jesus’ death on the cross is the resurrection. New Life. To take up our cross means that something must die in order for new life to come about. We must allow our old selves to die with Christ on the cross, so that we can be made new in and through him.

The old has gone, the new has come.

To follow Jesus and take up our own cross means we must follow Jesus’ way of the cross – a way of love that proclaims peace and justice for ALL God’s children. A way that sees the imago dei, the image of God, in our neighbors AND in ourselves.

To take up the cross means we will shut down and speak up against any and all forms of hate on social media, in our workplaces and schools, with our families and friends, and in our communities and our country.

To take up the cross means that we will walk to the grocery store or sit on the bus with our black and brown, Latinx, LGBTQIA, Muslim, refugee, and diversely abled siblings when they are scared for their safety. To take up the cross means we will listen to their stories, sit with them in their sufferings, welcome them into our homes and church, march with them in the streets, and join them in this fight for justice, working harder and stronger than ever… Even and especially when we know we will face resistance because of this.

This reminds me of someone who was really special to me in college. A few days before I graduated from college, the 15-year-old younger sister of someone I was close to was killed in a car accident. This was an incredible tragedy and loss in my life. For the two preceding years, I had gotten to know this young girl and how completely genuine, kind-hearted, and caring she was. It was common to hear stories about how she sat with kids on the bus or in the lunchroom who sat by themselves or how she stuck up for the kids who were being bullied, even when it meant she would get picked on for doing so. And during and after the funeral, we learned about many more of her kind and caring acts, as several of her classmates or parents told stories of how she had reached out to them or cared for them in a really difficult time in their lives.
The week after she passed away, as her family looked through her room, they found a note written in her handwriting on a page in the middle of her Bible. It said: “God first. Others second. Me last.” I think these words summed up the kind of life she lived and will always be remembered by.

And I think this is what Jesus was trying to convey in our passage in Matthew. To follow Jesus and take up the cross means we must live our lives putting: “God first. Others second. Me last.”

So may choose to do so, knowing this is not always easy. And when we do, let us “expect a sword,” as Karoline Lewis says in her Working Preacher commentary. “Because God’s peace expects justice. God’s peace asks for righteousness. God’s peace demands value for and regard of all. And God’s peace is what will save us all.”

Amen.

Liberty and Justice for Some – #philandocastile

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God, have mercy! Christ, have mercy!

This poor baby girl! No four year old should have to witness this! No child should have to fear that their parent could get shot by those who are supposed to protect them: for talking to an officer, or having a broken tail light, or driving through a red light, or riding their bike through an alley, or getting out their driver’s license when an officer tells them to, or carrying a registered and licensed gun, etc. etc. etc.

And the thing is: no child who looks like me will have to worry about this. No person who looks like me would get shot (even accidentally) for getting out their driver’s license when the officer asks them to and then telling an officer they have a licensed gun on them. And in the very unlikely case it would happen to someone who looks like me, there is no way the officer would be acquitted. Yet, this happens to my siblings of color ALL. THE. TIME!

Folks: We have a major problem! We have an f-ed up system. And we MUST call it out for what it is! Because this baby girl should should NOT be traumatized like this! She should NOT have lost her soon to be step dad! She should NOT have had to watch him get murdered while she was in the car with him! She should NOT have to live the rest of her life worrying about the safety of her mom and other loved ones who could get shot for being black!

We have an f-Ed up system! One that completely and utterly favors folks who are white and continues to believe and proclaim that black and brown lives don’t matter. This is called systemic racism and white supremacy. And they prevail throughout the institutions of our country.

Folks, we MUST call this out! Fellow white folks, we MUST look at ourselves in this as well. Because we participate in this system. When we look at this news and think it just is what it is, we participate in this system. When we don’t have to worry about this happening to people who look like us, we participate in this system, whether we try to or not. We benefit from it because our lives do matter in this system while the lives of our siblings of color are being disregarded, devalued, and ignored.

We must look at ourselves and the forms of racism (and Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, classism, sexism, etc) and all the other forms of hate that we continue to allow to brew within ourselves. Because let’s face it: we all hold within us isms and phobias about people who are different from us, even when we try hard not to. Because these isms and phobias are hundreds of years old and are deeply rooted within all of our systems and institutions. And we have been shaped by them without even being aware of how they have and are affecting us. (And to deny this about systems and ourselves is to be a part of the problem.)

So let’s begin with ourselves and confess our own participation in this! Over and over and over again! And let us call this out for what it is! Let us join together in making this a better world for ALL people, esp. our children!

God, have mercy!!! God, guide us toward a better way!

#blacklivesmatter
#philandocastile and his family matter!

Poverty is NOT a state of mind!

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In response to Ben Carson


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No! Just no! Poverty is NOT a state of mind!!!

A child or youth’s poverty is NOT a state of mind! A single parent’s poverty is not a state of mind! A family of 5’s poverty is not a state of mind! A senior’s poverty is NOT a state of mind!

Yes, maybe some people who have “everything taken from them” and are “on the street” somehow are able to get themselves off it. But that is not the norm for just anyone living in poverty… How can anyone get off the street with just “the right mindset!?” (At some point, you have to have access to some resources.) How can you even have the “right mindset” when you are starving… And how on earth are the 45 million people living in poverty in the U.S. (one of the wealthiest countries in the world) supposed to just get out of it when there aren’t enough jobs out there (or ones that pay a living wage)? When there isn’t enough affordable housing? When quality education is only accessible for children with a certain income? When higher education is so expensive that most grads graduate up to their necks in debt? When Medicaid, food stamps, and other services are being cut? When mental health agencies, immigration/refugee resettlement organizations, after school programs, and other crucial service organizations are underfunded? And oh… the list goes on…

No! Poverty is NOT a state of mind! And while we are trying to tell ourselves that to make ourselves feel better, children are going to bed hungry.