“This first Christmas was not a magical holiday homecoming story full of family turkey dinners, carol singing and football games. It did not involve decorating trees, baking cookies and opening wrapped gifts.Rather, the first Christmas is a refugee story.And it tells of a young, poor, homeless asylum seeking couple who fearfully flee their country and become residents in a foreign land in order to save their child’s life.And yet, this story is also a story of hope. It is in the midst of this violent and fearful event when God shows up in the flesh: not as a king who has worldly power, and not as one who is distant and does not understand the plight of the marginalized. Rather, God shows up as one of the marginalized. God shows up in the flesh in a dirty stable, as a vulnerable baby, to a terrified young homeless couple on the margins of society.”
“They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.” – Mark 10:46-52
Jesus, his disciples, and a large crowd that had been following Jesus are in Jericho. And they are about to leave town and continue their important journey toward Jerusalem. As they are getting ready to leave, they pass by a man named Bartimaeus, who is sitting alongside the road. He is a beggar, and he is blind. And when he hears that it’s Jesus of Nazareth who is passing by him, he begins to shout out: “Jesus, son of David! Have mercy on me!”
Now many in the crowd sternly order him to be silent. And it’s no wonder they do. This man is marginalized in many capacities. He is blind, which many at that time believed was due to his sin and his lack of faithfulness. And he is poor – and most likely experiencing homelessness. And therefore, he is deemed one of the lowest of the lows, an outsider who doesn’t deserve to participate in the life of the community and must be pushed to the complete outskirts of society.
So who does this man think he is, shouting out in a public place at a respected Rabbi and his close disciples: his devout and faithful students? He needs to be put in his place. He needs to be silenced.
In the past several weeks we have seen many examples of people attempting to silence and erase others around us – particularly those on the margins. At the end of September, we saw Dr. Christine Blasey Ford bravely share her incredibly painful and traumatic story of being sexually assaulted as a teenager, only to have her story be brushed aside. And, instead of fully respecting and listening to her story, many – including those in powerful positions in this country – have questioned her integrity and her honesty, have mocked her, and at times have even called her a liar.
And this silencing of Dr. Ford shines light on the incredibly deep-rooted problem we have in this country of not believing and of silencing sexual assault and rape survivors (particularly those who are women and non-binary persons.)
This week, we are also watching the migrant families desperately caravaning on foot across Mexico toward our border, seeking a place where they will be freed from oppression and violence. Seeking safety for themselves and for their children. And yet, while this is a horrific humanitarian crisis, these asylum seekers are being demonized. They are constantly being depicted in the media and by many of our national leaders as a mob that is full of “very bad people” and that is invading our country and therefore needs to be silenced and stopped.
And last Sunday we got wind that the Dept. of Health and Human Services is attempting to change the legal definition of gender, determining gender only on biological traits that are identifiable at or before birth, which would erase trans and non-binary persons and will take away many of their civil rights.
And – as Rev. M Barclay, the first transperson who is openly non-binary to be ordained as deacon in the United Methodist Church – stated: “The spiritual trauma of being perpetually told who we are isn’t real, that others shouldn’t believe us or support us, and that our well-being isn’t of collective significance is doing so much damage.”
As the crowds surrounding Jesus tried to silence the poor, blind man named Bartimaeus, so too are the crowds in our midst today trying to silence and erase those around us who are already on the margins and are most vulnerable.
And I think it can be easy to want to silence those around us who’s experiences and insights are different than our own or whose views make us uncomfortable and are difficult to understand… It’s often our tendency to silence those who’s stories and insights call for change, because that change often affects us. When change that requires inclusion of all persons takes place, it means that those of us who already have places at the table must make some changes within ourselves, too.
Because when we make room at the table for those who have been excluded, it means our space at the table gets a little smaller and we may feel a little more cramped and a little less comfortable than we did before. And when we offer platforms for those who have been silenced to speak their voice, that means the time we get to speak lessens and it means that there are other insights that we need to listen to, sometimes ones that will challenge our own perspectives and actions.
And this kind of change can be hard because it means we will likely need to give something up: whether it’s our pride, our comfort, our social status… our need to always be right, our constant use of space in the world, our positions of power.
And I wonder if this was the case for Jesus’ disciples and the crowds surrounding him when they sought to silence Bartimaeus. I wonder if they sought to silence him in order to maintain their insider status and their positions of power.
I wonder if they feared that if they gave these things up, they would be valued and loved less. But even though Jesus loves and values his disciples and those in the crowds, he is not going to put up with their silencing, dehumanizing, and excluding of one of God’s beloved children. And he is not going to allow them to continue to hold onto their societal power and privilege that uplifts them while pushes others to the margins.
Because for Jesus: there are no hierarchies. There are no outsiders or last and least. For Jesus, ALL are beloved children of God, beautifully and wonderfully made in God’s image. ALL deserve to be listened to, treated with dignity, and are worthy of equality and justice. For Jesus, there are no walls or borders that keep people – particularly those most vulnerable – out. And ALL are welcome at Jesus’s table.
We saw Jesus calling his disciples out when they sought to maintain a hierarchical status last week in our passage in Mark. When James and John ask Jesus to grant them seats next to him in his glory, which basically is asking for high societal status and power for all eternity, Jesus tells them that whoever wishes to be first must be last. And whoever wishes to be greatest must humble themselves and serve others instead. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve,” he explains, “And to give his life as a ransom for many.”
And Jesus continues to proclaim who he is and who he calls his disciples to be in our passage this morning. Instead of brushing Bartimaeus aside, continuing on his journey, and allowing him to be silenced, Jesus stops in his tracks, stands still and tells his disciples to call Bartimaeus to him.
And when Bartimaeus comes to him, Jesus does something that is surprising and so different from the cultural norms of his day. Jesus asks what he can do for Bartimaeus.
I think Jesus’ question here is so surprising because so often we feel we know what is best for others… even when we don’t identify with those individuals or know what it’s like to be in their shoes…
And we often tend to speak on their behalf, without having their voices centered at the table, even if we don’t know what it’s like to be them: even if we don’t know what it’s like to be blind, to be poor, to be experiencing homelessness. Even if we don’t know what it’s like to be a youth today, to be a person of color or an immigrant in our country, to be a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Or to be whatever blank we can fill in…
So often we try to determine what life is like for others and what is best for them without even listening to their stories, experiences, perspectives, & what they say they need.
I think a good example of this took place earlier this week on Megyn Kelly’s talk show. She invited a panel to come on her show to discuss whether or not it is racist for white people to wear black face when they dress up for Halloween. Megyn’s argument was that it wasn’t racist because she said when she was a kid, it seemed to be okay.
But Amber Ruffin, comedian and one of the writers of the Late Night Show with Seth Myers pointed out that there was a big problem with what took place on Megyn’s show. Amber immediately noticed that all the people on the panel who were sitting around the table were white.
“How are you going to have a bunch of white people sit together and figure out what’s racist?” Amber asked. “White people don’t get to decide what’s racist. If I punch you, I don’t decide if it hurts or not. You do.”
And this scenario is so common. We tend to do this often. Whether it’s a bunch of men talking about what women need or experience or a bunch of people who have never experienced mental illness talking about those who do, and the list goes on.
But this kind of silencing and exclusion from the table is unacceptable to Jesus. And in our passage this morning, he shows us another way.
He asks Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?”
You see, Jesus does not insist that he understands Bartimaeus’ experiences or knows what he needs and what is best for him. Rather, Jesus asks Bartimaeus to share his story and to state what he needs.
Jesus offers Bartimaeus – a person who had been ostracized and silenced for so long – the same kind of dignity all persons should have: the ability to speak for himself. Jesus makes room for Bartimaeus at the table and offers him a platform to share his story and his perspective. Jesus makes room for him to demand justice and equality that he has been denied. Jesus listens to him, believes him, and acknowledges his suffering. And then Jesus praises Bartimaeus for his persistence and resistance. “Your faith has made you well.”
And when Bartimaeus asks Jesus to restore his sight, and thus release him from the systemic oppression he had been experiencing because of his blindness, Jesus offers him healing and freedom and invites Bartimaeus to follow him on his way.
Brothers, sisters, siblings: this story is good news. In our passage today, Jesus reminds this poor, blind man who he is and who’s he is. And Jesus reminds us of this, as well.
You see, Jesus loves us, and claims us as his own: beloved and sacred children of God: Each with our own stories and insights that deserve to be heard and held with care and love. And he calls all of us to follow him on his way of making space for and offering compassionate arms, listening ears, and believing hearts to those who have otherwise been silenced. And THIS, my friends, is where we will experience freedom and healing.
And for those who have been silenced or pushed to the margins: there is good news here, too. Because no matter how much the crowds may try to take away your dignity and worth: Jesus affirms it and marks you with his unconditional love.
Because you are beloved. You are beautifully and wonderfully made in God’s image. You are a cherished child of God. You deserve to be listened to and to be believed, and your story is sacred. And no crowd or individual that says otherwise can take that away from you.
When Bartimaeus called out to Jesus, “have mercy on me,” Jesus stopped in his tracks and with compassion he invited Bartimaeus to share his story and what he needed, asking: “What can I do for you?” And through his listening ear and loving care, Jesus offered Bartimaeus freedom and healing.
And he offers this to you, as well.
“He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” – Mark 6:1-13
Many of you might know that last week Pastor Michael and I were in Houston with 13 youth and 2 young adult leaders for the ELCA Youth Gathering, where 30,000 youth from all over the country and even across the world gather once every three years for worship, to hear speakers, to participate in service learning projects with local organizations, to learn about multiple areas of injustice and how our faith calls us to respond, and – of course – to also have a lot of fun.
This year, our youth group also gathered with about 700 other youth and adults for the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event, which is a pre-Youth Gathering event that seeks to empower youth of color and multicultural youth groups to grow in their faith, develop as leaders, and build awareness and acceptance of one another’s cultural backgrounds and differences.
During the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event, which is the most diverse gathering of Lutherans in the ELCA, our youth and leaders had so many powerful experiences as we sang and danced to global worship music together, talked with and heard the stories of people from all over the country and some from across the world, shared our own personal and family stories – some which included painful stories about our youth’s experiences with racism, and our group started a community garden for refugee families who are new to the Houston area.
Once the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event ended, the main ELCA Youth Gathering began. The theme for this year’s gathering was: “This Changes Everything,” and throughout the week we heard so many inspirational and challenging stories and messages about how God’s radical love, grace, and hope do – in fact – change everything.
While the worship we experienced and the messages we heard were remarkable, what was most powerful for me was seeing how our youth truly embodied the hands and feet of Christ as they created a safe and caring space for one another to be truly themselves, as they befriended and encouraged youth from other church groups, and as they organized and led 300 youth and adults from our Metro-Chicago synod in a rally and march calling for an end to the separation and detainment of families at the border. Several of our youth spoke – both in English and Spanish – led chants and songs, invited youth to call and write letters to their legislators, and two of our youth were even interviewed by Telemundo and the Houston Press. This was not easy for them to do for multiple reasons, esp. in times like these. Yet, despite the opposition they could have faced, these youth believed this was important, and for some of them, this was personal. So they proclaimed this good news. They were so courageous and they did a phenomenal job! I am extremely proud of them! They were an amazing representation of Edgewater!
After hearing and experiencing God’s love, grace, and hope last week in a variety ways (many of which were through our own Edgewater youth), we were then challenged to continue to share this good news when we returned to our home communities.
On our last night of the Youth Gathering, we heard from 11 year old transgender activist Rebekah Bruesehoff, who said: “I have a lot of support, but so many transgender kids don’t. Transgender kids are just like other kids. We need to be loved and supported… Hearts and minds can change. And I can change the world. I want people to know that it doesn’t matter our age. We can be hope for the church and all people. They need us. I have hope for a church where people are not just welcomed, but they are celebrated. We can make it happen… And you – each and every one of you – made in God’s image, are made to be hope in the church and made to be hope in the world. You are my hope.”
And we heard from poet Joe Davis, who said:
“This generation is the one that will disrupt fear with courage and status quo with radical hope. You are here for a reason: Not just for the future, but for the here and now. Show up unapologetically as your authentic self. The church and world need you… You are a generation that’s teaching us that enough is enough. Radical hope is when we celebrate not just what we see now, but what it can be. Things can and will be transformed. But there will be struggle, and we must practice this hope every day. This hope changes me. This hope changes you. This hope Changes Everything.”
Now, while many of the 30,000 youth and adults were inspired and transformed by the good news we heard and experienced last week, the call to share this good news when we return to our home communities is not always going to be easy. For we know it is not always going to be welcomed and accepted, even by those we are closest to.
And this was the case for Jesus’s homecoming in our Gospel text this morning, as well.
You see, in our passage in Mark, Jesus has just returned to his hometown – along with his disciples – and has begun teaching in his home synagogue. And yet, while this synagogue is filled with people who knew Jesus’ family, had hung out with Jesus when he was a boy, or had watched him grow up, they did not respond to his homecoming with welcoming arms.
When the Nazarenes hear him teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath day, many soon become astounded… And if there was any good sense of this word, it doesn’t last very long… as the Nazarenes soon take offense at him. “Where did this man get all of this?” they ask.
“Isn’t this the poor carpenter we’ve known all these years? Isn’t he the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Aren’t these his sisters sitting right here? Isn’t he the son of Mary?” they sneer, as they remind each other of Jesus’ shameful origin: that he had been conceived by an unwed teenager. “How could this guy – this poor, carpenter with ordinary siblings and a mother with a disgraceful past teach with authority? How could his teachings and his actions have any sort of power at all?”
Now our text does not say what it was about Jesus and his teachings that offended this crowd in his hometown synagogue so much that they discredited and insulted him. However, if we look back at the preceding chapters in Mark, we could probably take a wild guess.
In the first several chapters of Mark’s gospel, we see that even from the very beginning, Jesus’ ministry is not what would have been seen as ordinary.
He’s cast out demons and stilled a storm. He’s performed miracles… on the Sabbath day. He’s touched and healed those who were deemed “untouchable”: the sick, a leper, a woman… who had been haemorraging… for years. He’s called twelve disciples to follow him – most of whom are just common fishermen and one who is a tax collector. He proclaims that the kingdom of God has come near and tells those who follow him not to keep anything hidden, but to bring all their secrets into the light.
He eats with the sinners and the tax collectors and then tells the religious – the righteous ones – to confess and repent of their sins.
Jesus was changing everything!
And he was already seen as such an offensive radical rule-breaker that by the time we get to Mark chapter 3, many of his followers say he is “out of his mind,” some of the religious leaders accuse him of being in line with Satan, himself, and even his very own family questions his abilities and rush to where he is teaching and try to restrain him.
And now here we are a few chapters and several radical teachings, actions, and miracles later. Jesus has definitely shaken things up a bit, and it’s only the sixth chapter in Mark.
And here in our text for today, after all the backlash he’s already received, Jesus has the nerve to come back to his hometown and to his home synagogue. And here – in the midst of the ones who’ve watched him grow up, he comes preaching this same kind of message. This same message that treats the outcasts and those who were “untouchable” as if they are equals and calls the religious and righteous to bring their secrets to light and confess and repent of their sins.
Who does this ordinary carpenter with a shameful family past think he is?
But the insults don’t stop Jesus. He lays his hands on a few more of those “untouchable” and cures them. And then – as he and his disciples leave Nazareth and go out into the villages, he gives his disciples authority and commissions them to go out into the world vulnerably – two by two – with nothing but a staff, the clothes on their backs, and the sandals on their feet.
They must rely on the people they meet to feed them and to provide them with a place to sleep. And yet Jesus tells them they must go out boldly, proclaiming that all should repent, and they must confront evil, cast out demons, anoint those “untouchable” with oil, and heal the sick.
Now, I don’t know about you, but if I were one of the disciples – who had just watched Jesus get opposed, insulted, and publicly shamed in his hometown synagogue, I would have probably thought quite hard about picking up all of my belongings and running in the opposite direction.
Because I’m sure it would have been very difficult for these disciples to give up their food, clothing, and social status – the things they were privileged to have and could rely on for their safety, comfort, and well-being. And it would have been very difficult for them to go out vulnerably and proclaim Jesus’ radical good news, with no confirmation that they could find people who would accept them and provide for them.
Sometimes I wonder how these disciples had the courage to follow Jesus and to go out risking so much, when it would have been much easier for them to ignore the cries of those around them and just go on living their normal every day lives, without having to face the suffering and injustice around them.
I think I wonder this about the disciples because sometimes I wonder this about myself. To be quite honest, there have been many times when I just want to pick up all of my belongings and hold tight to my own privilege and just pretend that the systemic injustice that continues to prevail throughout our country and world and the suffering it causes so many people do not exist.
Because this is the easier way. Because this way allows me to live in my comfortable bubble that I have the privilege of living in. It allows me to avoid any kind of shaming and opposition that those who speak out often face. It enables me to deny my own participation in and benefits from the unjust systems in our country that still privilege those like me while deeming those who are not as “less than.”
Because as a white, cis-gender, educated, middleclass, woman who is married to a man and who is a U.S. citizen with documentation, I have the privilege of being able to just shut everything around me out and to live my life without fear.
I can just go to my safe home – without ever being pulled over in my car or stopped and frisked on my bike ride home because of the color of my skin. I can walk home without fear that I could get jumped or called a derogatory name because of my religious affiliation, gender identity, or because of the gender identity of my spouse.
I can go to sleep every night knowing that my sister’s children will never be forcibly taken from her or that my parents will never get deported. I have the privilege of just getting to turn off the news and going about living my own comfortable life without having to think about those around this country who have to live in fear every single day.
And yet, this is not a privilege I get to hold onto when I follow Jesus. Because this is not Jesus’ way.
Because just as Jesus called out to the twelve disciples and commissioned them to acknowledge and let go of their grip on their privilege and to go out into the world boldly, he commissions ALL of his disciples to do so, as well. He commissions each one of us to share God’s radical love and to BE the hope that will – indeed – change everything.
Because when one member of our human family suffers, we ALL suffer.
During our last worship service at the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event, we heard Chicago Pastor Yehiel Curry explain that it is when we immerse ourselves with others who may look, speak, talk, believe, worship, and act differently than we do and get to know them, that we will begin to realize that we are more alike than we are different. And THIS IS WHAT CHANGES EVERYTHING!
He saw this taking place a lot at the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event this week. (And so did I. And wow: was it ever a beautiful image of the Kingdom of God!)
Pastor Yehiel went on to explain that we are one in Christ, because it is Jesus who brings down the walls of hostility that divide us. However, we – as the body of Christ – are called to bring down these dividing walls in our world, as well. And yet, in order to make change, we need to start within ourselves.
“When you change your heart, you can change your mind,” he said. “When you change your mind, you can change your community. When you change your community, you can change your city. When you change your city, you can change your state.
When you can change your state, you can change your nation. When you can change your nation, you can change your world. When you can say this is my brother, this is my sister, [this is my sibling], this is my family: THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!”
And then we are truly ONE in Christ.
Day 7: (Saturday) was a great day. We began the day by sleeping in! (Yay!)
Some folks swam at the pool for a bit.
And then we went to the bus stop to catch our bus to the NRG Center.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in the Interactive Learning Center at the NRG center.
We first made our way to the Valparaiso University booth to say hello to former ECT youth group member and current college student, Kalleb.
Then we visited several other exhibits and learned about a variety of issues:
1. First stop was the #MeToo Exhibit:
2. Second stop was Lantern Hill Mexico: This is an education and nutrition program for impoverished children. This ministry seeks to break the cycle of poverty by ensuring children to stay in school instead of dropping out and working in fields or factories at young ages like many others in rural Mexico.
At the exhibit, we learned about the organization and painted designs and inspirational Spanish phrases on school benches for Mexican students in Ensenada.
3. Third stop was Peace Not Walls. Through accompaniment, advocacy and awareness-raising, Peace Not Walls connects ELCA members to our companions and promotes dignity, full respect for human rights, healing and reconciliation. With our Palestinian Lutheran companions, we also accompany Palestinians and Israelis, Jews, Christians and Muslims working together for peace with justice.
At the center, we learned a bit about the plight of Palestinians in Israel/Palestine.
4. Next, we visited the Reconciling Works Exhibit, an independent Lutheran nonprofit that works for the full welcome, inclusion and celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQIA+) people in the Lutheran church. It is our vision that the church is a place where LGBTQ people and their families can worship and thrive, bringing all their God-given gifts to mission and ministry for the world. There, Pastor Michael Fick walked our group through the different flags and explained what they mean.
5. We stopped at the Racial Justice Ministries booth. The Racial Justice Ministries of the ELCA are catalysts and bridge-builders committed to the work of equipping leaders, training, building alliances and supporting ecumenical networks so that together, throughout the church in public witness, programs and policies advance racial justice – locally and globally.
6. We wanted to go to the LIRS (Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services) and AMMPARO booth that takes you through what it would be like as migrants and refugees seeking safety in a new land. The bad news was that the lines were so long that we were unable to make it through the exhibit. The great news is that 5000 people went through the excited and signed letters to their legislators.
Then we needed to have some fun…
Even and especially when we were waiting in long lines!
Mass gathering was full of fun and powerful speakers and worship.
Immanuel Lutheran’s very own Rev. Stephen Bouman spoke about what it was like to be Bishop in New York during 9/11.
The theme for the evening was God’s Hope Changes Everything. So Rev. Bouman said: “But hope cannot be crushed. There were many hero’s in the towers. The question often asked in tragedies “where the hell is God?” was being answered in small acts of compassion. God will use our hope to move our grief and anger into action.
I see you following Jesus who Changes Everything.
I see you: called to radical hope, being what you were born to be.
You are the church who will change everything.
Deborah D.E.E.P Mouton explained:
“Opposite of hope is not hate. It’s apathy. There is so much wrong that you can just right. There is so much more of you to give.”
Carson McCullar shared his powerful story about his addiction.
“I may have lost hope in me but God never did. No matter how hard things might be, there is a light of hope (for me it was through the friends and family who never gave up in me.)
Then Jamie Bruesehoff introduced her 11 year old daughter Rebekah, who shared her story.
Rebekah explained how sometimes as she began to under herself as transgender, she wondered: “Did God mess up? I’ve come to realize God does not make mistakes. God made me me.
I have a lot of support but so many transgender kids don’t.
Transgender kids are just like other kids. We need to be loved and supported.
Hearts and minds can change. I can change the world.
I want people to know that it doesn’t matter our age. We can be hope for the church and all people. They need us.
I have hope for a church where people are not just welcomed, but they are celebrated.
We can make it happen.
You – each and every one of you – made in God’s image are made to be hope in the church and made to be hope in the world. You are my hope.”
Finally, Joe Davis spoke. He explained:
“This generation is the one that will disrupt fear with courage and status quo with radical hope.
You are here for a reason: Not just for the future but for the here and now.
Differences are a gift. We are created for a purpose. Say you have a purpose not just in the church.
Show up unapologetically as your authentic self. The church and world need you.
You are a generation that’s teaching us enough is enough.
…Radical hope is when we celebrate not what we see now but what it can be. Things can and will be transformed. But there will be struggle, and so we practice this hope every day.
This hope changes me. This hope changes you this Hope Changes Everything.”
After the mass gathering, our brought beauty, a positive energy, and joy to those around us as we sang songs from MYLE.
What a wonderful day!
“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.”
“When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.”
Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” – Luke 21:5-19
In our passage in Luke this morning, the disciples are adorning all the beautiful stones of the Temple – the place that was so important and central to their community and their faith. And I can just imagine how they must have felt as Jesus told them that all of those stones are going to come crashing down. That their beloved Temple would soon be destroyed.
I think I can imagine how they must have felt because I think so many of us feel this way right now.
I am going to be completely honest. This week has been incredibly difficult. I can’t remember the last time I have cried as hard as I did on Tuesday night while I was watching the election. And I think the last time I woke up feeling like I was in a living nightmare like I felt on Wednesday morning was my sophomore year of college on Sept. 11th – as I watched the twin towers collapsing in New York on tv.
Now, the reason I was so distraught this week was not because a particular political party or my politician of choice was not chosen. But I have been so upset because of the incredible hate that has been spouted out by the politician that was elected and by several of his supporters – the kind of hate that is a direct attack on the personhood of so many of us and our neighbors and is incredibly dangerous.
And I know this week, I have not been the only person overcome with pain and fear of what this might mean.
The past few days I’ve heard the many hurts and fears voiced by family members, friends, neighbors, parishioners, parents, children, and youth.
On Wednesday night during youth group, as we gathered for prayer, anointing, and communion, several of our youth expressed that they were extremely worried about what this meant for the people they cared about or for themselves, as a youth of color or as a refugee, as a member of the Latinx or LGBTQIA communities, as a young woman or a youth with special needs, as a victim of sexual assault or as a youth whose family is economically disadvantaged.
“Will my family get deported?” “Will he take away my right to same sex marriage?” “What will happen to my food stamps?” – our youth asked.
“I don’t understand how anyone could ever vote for someone who treats women that way,” one of our young women said, crying. “Do they think that’s okay to treat us like that?”
“I don’t think he should be president,” an autistic youth stated. “He’s racist and mean to lots of people. I think he is just a big baby.”
“I’m worried about the safety of one of my Muslim friends,” another youth explained. “Her mom even asked her not to wear her hijab in public because she fears for her daughter.”
“I feel accepted here in this community,” one black male youth expressed. “But seeing how many people – even Christians – voted this way makes me scared that I will not be as accepted and safe in other places outside of Chicago.”
The pain and fears are deep and real for so many right now.
But too often – in times like these – our tendency is to deny or quickly skip over those fears and that pain. We can’t bear the reality, and it feels too painful to face our feelings or to see those whom we care about suffer. So we try to fix it. We tell ourselves and others to just “look on the bright side.” “God is in control.” “Everything will be okay.”
But the hard reality, as we see in our Gospel text in Luke this morning, is we are not guaranteed that everything in our world is going to be okay. At least, not immediately with the snap of our fingers.
Just as we see in Luke, there are going to be times of great trials and sufferings. There are going to be (and there currently are) unjust systems in our world and in our nation that divide and oppress.
“So stop adorning the beautiful stones of the walls of the Temple,” Jesus tells his disciples in Luke. “Stop focusing on other things so as to avoid the reality of what is to come and what already is. Soon, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another. All stones of the Temple will be thrown down. There will be destruction and violence. You will be persecuted in my name for proclaiming my good news, even by some of your own friends and family members. So stop focusing on other things. Instead, be alert. Beware that you are not led astray by others who falsely speak of doing works in my name.”
These are hard words.
Stop focusing on other things. Beware of those who proclaim hate in the name of Christianity. Stay woke.
Face and name the reality of the suffering and injustice around you. Because it is there. It is real.
I know this is not what we want hear. But it is the harsh truth, and if we don’t face and claim it, we will have harsh consequences.
Because if we continue to avoid the suffering and the fears that our neighbors or that we – ourselves – are facing, we will loose sight of the real unjust and oppressive systems that are causing such suffering and oppression. And if we loose sight of these unjust systems, there will be no room for us to move beyond our fears and suffering so that we can begin to move toward hope. We will only be left with a false sense of optimism, which will keep us from seeing the opportunities we do have to move toward reconciliation, justice, and peace.
Because we cannot begin the path to reconciliation without tearing down the walls that divide and the systems that oppress. And we cannot tear down these walls until we first recognize and confess that those walls and systems actually do exist.
Likewise: we cannot start to move beyond our fears and anger nor heal from our pain and suffering without first recognizing these feelings exist and then doing the important grief work so that we might begin to move THROUGH these feelings.
Now I know this is heavy. But please bear with me. Because there is good news.
Because as harsh as this all sounds, our reality does not have to end here, and Jesus calls us to not let it end here.
You see, in our text in Luke, Jesus does not just leave his disciples alone in that place of suffering and despair as he opens their eyes to the reality of what was to come and of the systems of injustice that were already present.
“Stay woke,” he urges them. “Because now is your opportunity to testify.”
You see, we can find hope in the promises that we hear in Malachi and 2 Thessalonians this morning that “there is a day coming when the evil will stumble… and the complacent and the lovers of the status quo will one day be revealed” (as Pastor Rachel Hackenberg paraphrases.)
We can find hope in the Kingdom of God that Jesus began to reign in 2000 years ago – a kingdom where the worldly throwns of injustice will be overturned.
But this Kingdom of God is not something we just sit around waiting for. And our hope in it is not passive. Rather it is active. And it involves us. Yes, God is creating new heavens and a new earth, but we are being called to join God in this creation process. And so even when the stones of the Temple walls come tumbling down before our very eyes, through us God is making all things new.
And so it is in times such as these, when we have this opportunity to testify.
You see, to testify is to love as Jesus loves. To speak as Jesus speaks. To make peace in this world as Jesus – the Prince of Peace – makes.
To testify is to proclaim the good news that Jesus proclaims. The good news, which can be summed up at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Luke, where he stands before the crowds, unrolls a scroll and begins to quote from the book of Isaiah: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ (And this year of the Lord’s favor in which he was to proclaim was the year of Jubilee – the year that the Jews had been waiting for – which was the year when land would be returned to its original owners, all Hebrew slaves would be set free, and all debts would be remitted. It was the ordered way of breaking down dividing walls of injustice and making peace).
Now, Jesus says, is our opportunity to testify this good news.
“Now is our opportunity to speak the gospel to the brokenhearted,” as Christian blogger Jill Duffield puts it. “Now is our opportunity to speak the truth in love. Now is our opportunity to let the world know we are Christ’s disciples by our love for one another in a very unloving and too often unlovely world. Now is our opportunity to testify to the power of Jesus Christ to reconcile and forgive, to transform and redeem.”
“Consider all the tumult, the war, the earthquakes, the suffering and the cruelty,” Jill continues. “Does not God have a Word to say in the midst of it? Have we not been given a purpose to fulfill in the face of it? Are we not to be a light to the world? Didn’t Jesus ask, “Do you love me?” [And his disciples answered:]”Yes, Lord, you know that we love you.” [Didn’t Jesus then say to them – and to us]: “Tend my sheep.” Now is our opportunity to testify.”
You see, to testify means that in times such as these, we create holy spaces for one another – like our youth group did on Wednesday night – where we are free to lament and share and hold one another in our fears, anger, and pain. Because these feelings are real. And we have a God who is real. A God who meets us where we are. A God who came in the flesh so that he might know our sufferings and walk alongside us in the midst of them. A God who – as poet Paul Claudel said – “did not come to take away our suffering. [But who] came to fill it with his presence.”
Now is our opportunity to testify.
To testify means that we will walk to the grocery store or sit on the bus with our black and brown, Latinx, LGBTQIA, Muslim, Jewish, refugee, and diversely abled siblings when they are scared for their safety. To testify means we will listen to one another’s stories, sit with each other in our sufferings, welcome those who are hurting into our homes and church, march with one another in the streets, and join in on this fight for justice, working harder and stronger than ever before.
To testify 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 testify means we will believe and proclaim the truth that both we and all our neighbors are beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of God.
While many of us are still feeling overwhelmed with fear, anger, and pain right now, these feelings don’t have to have control over us. Because we can also hold onto hope.
Because love can and will trump hate.
As I read and heard the kinds of fears and pain many of those I care so deeply for were feeling this week, I said to them what I would like to say to you this morning:
I see you. I hear you. I love you. You matter.
My heart aches with you. I stand with you.
You are not alone.
May those who need to hear these words today hear them, and may we all share these words with our hurting neighbors.
In times like these, we must come alongside one another. Because we need each other. We are BETTER together.
In the last few days, in addition to grieving the horrific shootings last week in Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and Dallas, I’ve seen a few of my Muslim sisters share posts about their friends (who wear hijabs) getting verbally assaulted, spit on, or egged.
This hate – all of it – has GOT to stop!
And the work of ending this hate has got to start with us!
PLEASE: if you see someone mistreat one of our Muslim siblings – or ANYONE: confront that assaulter if possible, record the incident if needed, and make sure the one being assaulted is safe and cared for.
PLEASE: if you hear someone making an Islamophobic/racist/homophobic/transphobic/ablist, etc. joke or saying something nasty about “those people” – whomever they are directing the remarks at: don’t just ignore them. Shut down the stereotype. Engage them in conversation and help them understand that negative stereotyping is wrong and dangerous for everyone.
PLEASE: if you see someone who practices a different religion, has a different sexual orientation or gender identity than you, whose country of origin is different than your’s, or whose skin color is different than your’s and you immediately think that person is “trouble,” “sinful,” “bad,” “dangerous,” “weird,” or whatever generalization you might have: catch yourself in that thought. Tell yourself that this thought process is wrong and then do something so that you might begin to change your thought process. For those of us who are people of faith: look at that person and remind yourself that they – too – were created good, are beloved children of God, and are God’s image-bearers.
Start by getting to know someone on a personal level who practices that religion, whose sexual orientation or gender identity is different than your’s, or who looks different than you do. Educate yourself. Read books and articles written by people who identify with that particular group. Follow them on social media. Attend a worship service or a social gathering with people who look, worship, believe, speak differently than you do.
Developing relationships with our neighbors is one of the best ways we can start to break down stereotypes and defeat hate.
As Nelson Mandela said: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than it’s opposite.”
For those who live in Chicago: One way we can start doing this is by breaking bread with our neighbors at a Potluck for Humanity this coming Sunday, July 17 at 6:00pm at the Bean.
So let’s begin here! Let’s learn to love!
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. – Galatians 3:23-29
A few weeks ago, Trey, a friend of my husband’s, came out publicly. Not only was this a difficult thing to do when he told his wife – who is his best friend and the one he shares two kids with… And not only was this difficult when he told his parents – who are members of a church that does not affirm people who are LGBTQIA… But this was particularly difficult because he is a very public figure. Trey is the lead singer of Everyday Sunday, a Christian rock-band, and has more than 25,000 followers on social media – many of whom are non-affirming Christians.
Although Trey has received incredible support from many people – including Christians – since he came out, it has been heartbreaking to see the nasty and hurtful comments Trey has received from so many other Christians. I will not quote these hateful jabs. But to sum it up, lets just say that Trey has been told by several people – who once esteemed him as an important person in the Christian community – that because Trey is gay, he cannot be a Christian and that he cannot be a part of this Christian club unless he “changes” and thus denies who he is.
As I was heartbroken when I watched this unfold on Trey’s facebook and twitter accounts the past few weeks, I was reminded of what was going on in the early church in Galatia. This issue of determining who is “in” or “out” of this early faith community – of who can be included or excluded – was at the heart of Paul’s letter to the Galatian church. For the earliest Jesus followers, this was not as much of a problem because most of the Jesus followers were Jewish, decided to join this Jesus movement within the synagogues, and therefore continued to worship and to observe the same customs and the Jewish Law as they always had before.
So for these Jewish Christians, things in the early church did not look much different from how things were in the Jewish community before Christ. However, as more and more Gentiles (or non-Jews) began to convert and join the movement, this new growing community had to begin to define what it believed and required of its new members. These Gentiles were different than the Jewish Christians: they were different ethnically and culturally. Many of them may have looked and dressed very differently than the Jewish Christians and possibly spoke dialects or with accents different from the Jews. They had different customs, eating practices, and world views, and they did not observe the Jewish Law – which defined the Jewish people as a faith community.
In addition to this, for centuries, the Jewish understanding was that the Jews who followed the Jewish Law were THE children of God. So now all of a sudden as Gentiles were joining this movement, the Jewish Christians had to begin to ask the question: what does it mean to be a Jewish-Jesus-follower worshipping alongside these very different NON-Jewish-Jesus followers? And what is required of those non-Jews in this growing faith community?
Some Gentiles were accepted into this new faith community by many Jewish Christ-followers. However, there was also a large group of Jewish-Christ-followers who claimed that the Gentiles could only be included into this community and could only become children of God under one condition: they had to first convert to Judaism and observe the Jewish Law and customs. And when some of these Gentile Christians didn’t believe in or do things the way the Jewish-Christians did, they were condemned and demonized. They were called sinners and were told they were not children of God. They were excluded from participating in the life of the faith community. We even see this right before our passage for today in Galatians 2, where Paul explains that several of these more conservative Jewish-Christians – including Peter – refused to eat with the Gentiles in Antioch…
This is all too familiar to us today, isn’t it? The judging, the demonizing, the othering, the excluding… that often creates and goes hand in hand with the hating… Because of one’s differences in religious beliefs, customs, country of origin, color of skin, sexual orientation, gender identity, and the list goes on.
We see it in the nasty comments on Trey’s facebook and twitter accounts by some of his fans. We see it in much of this country’s political discussions about our brothers and sisters who are immigrants, refugees, or Muslims. This week we have seen it in many of the comments that devalue the victims of the shooting in Orlando because they were LGBTQIA or Latinx. And when we see such horrific acts of hate toward our LGBTQIA and Latinx siblings in the shooting in Orlando last Sunday and toward our black brothers and sisters in the shooting at Mother Emmanuel AME Church a year ago this past Friday, we realize how much deep-rooted isms and phobias continue to prevail throughout our country and even within our faith institutions. And we see that this kind of othering and hate seeks to dehumanize and take away the beloved-ness and the imago dei – the image of God – in those who appear to be “different.”
And so was true in the early church.
But Paul had something to say about this to the early Christians.
And so in his letter to the Galatian church, he responds to the conservative Jewish-Christians who claimed that the Gentiles could not be children of God or part of the Christian community unless they first converted to Judaism, were circumcised, and began to observe the Jewish Law. Just before our passage in Galatians 3, Paul explains that it is not the Law that justifies, but rather, it is only the work done through Jesus Christ “for in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything. The only thing that counts for anything is faith working in love.”
Paul then goes on to say in our passage that before there was faith in Christ, the Law was a disciplinarian. It was a temporary guide that helped the people of God discern how to live, interact with one another, and be reconciled to God. However, now that Christ has come, proclaimed the good news of God’s love to all, died on the cross for the ENTIRE world, and has risen from the dead, Christ’s followers are no longer subject to the Law. Therefore, ALL in Christ are children of God no matter if they obey the Jewish Law or not. For the whole Law is summed up in a single commandment: You shall love your God with your whole heart and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I think what Paul is talking about here is the kind of love of neighbor that the Musketeers – the men who swore to serve and protect the French king – had for each another.
If you have ever read or seen any of the versions of the Three Musketeers, you probably know what I’m talking about. At the end of the story, D’Artagnon, the newest member of the Musketeers – has a personal duel he has to attend to. And when he tells his new friends – the Three musketeers – that he will take care of the matter himself, the three musketeers interrupt him, saying: “we Musketeers not only protect the king, but we also protect each other.” The story ends with D’Artagnon shouting out: “All for one,” and the rest of the musketeers answering together, “and one for all.”
We can learn from this kind of unity and loyalty of the Musketeers. As followers of Jesus Christ, not only do we strive to serve, protect, and love God, but we are ALSO called to serve, protect ALL of our neighbors and ALL in Christ.
You see, for Paul, ALL in Christ Jesus are children of God through faith – no matter who they are. And ALL should be invited and included – without any conditions – into this community and cared for with love.
But for Paul, this does not stop here… In our passage for today Paul goes on to describe an even more radical reversal that has taken place through Christ.
And as he describes what it means now to be IN CHRIST – to be and to live as the Christian faith community – he addresses the issue of hierarchy and classicism.
You see, within the Jewish community before Christ, there were several strong divisions and class distinctions between particular groups of people. An ancient Jewish daily prayer explains it well, saying: “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler of the universe who has created me a human and not beast, a man and not a woman, an Israelite and not a gentile, circumcised and not uncircumcised, free and not slave.”
This prayer describes three major divisions and hierarchies: based on one’s identity: gender, social and economic status, and ethnicity.
Every morning Jewish men would have prayed this prayer, and Paul would have been very familiar with it as he, who was once a Jewish Pharisee, would have prayed it every morning, as well.
And yet here in Galatians, Paul takes this prayer and he reverses it, saying to the Galatian Church: “There is now no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
In other words, in Christ there are no longer unjust societal and cultural divisions. And so now all “in Christ” are one. Differences no longer divide. There are no longer hierarchies: where some are more valued than others.
Whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, straight or gay, binary or non-binary, white or black, rich or poor, native or immigrant: ALL are beloved children of God. ALL are beautifully and wonderfully made just the way we are. ALL are created in God’s image, and marked with God’s unconditional love before we even left our mother’s wombs.
And nothing and nobody can take that away from us.
Not a bunch of nasty comments on facebook or twitter. Not a politician’s policies or a faith leader’s statements.
Not even a horrific hate crime.
So may we have the courage and the confidence to claim this. May we whole-heartedly believe it. And may we proclaim it as loudly and as often as we can both about our neighbors and about ourselves.
And in painful times such as these, may we hold onto the beautiful words spoken at the Tony Awards last Sunday night by Hamilton the musical star Lin-Manuel Miranda:
“We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger. We rise and fall and light from dying embers; Remembrance that hope and love last forever.
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love.
Cannot be killed or swept aside… Now fill the world with music, love, and pride.”
Since I heard about the horrific mass shooting of LGBTQIA individuals and allies – most of whom were persons of color – in Orlando at the Pulse gay nightclub – a place of sanctuary for many – during the Latin night on Sunday, I have been at a loss for words. What I do know is that I am angry and that my heart aches for all of the beautiful children of God whose lives were so hatefully taken from them. My heart aches for the families and friends who grieve their tremendous loss. My heart aches for those whose safe-haven has now become a place that’s unstable and full of fear. My heart aches for those who witnessed this horrendous act and will never be the same again. And my heart aches for all of my LGBTQIA siblings and LGBTQIA siblings of color who fear being targets of hate and violence because of who they are.
Though I still can’t seem to find the words, what I do want to say is this:
To my fellow Christian brothers, sisters, siblings: we cannot remain silent anymore. Beloved children of God are being targeted, bullied, demonized, kicked out of their homes, and even killed because of who they are. The demonizing is so great that many of our LGBTQIA children, youth, and siblings have taken their own lives. And it is many of our own institutions that have created such systems of “othering” and that contribute to and encourage the demonizing of these beloved children of God.
Jesus is weeping.
We can no longer be silent, for silence is an act of complicity. We MUST put an end to this now!
To my Muslim brothers, sisters, siblings: I see you. And I am so deeply sorry that your faith continues to be blamed for horrendous violent acts such as this. There are extremists who do horrific acts of violence in the name of all religions. My prayer is that we do not allow these extremists – who hijack our faiths and try to claim them in order to justify their hate – to win. We cannot allow our fears to drive us apart. We are better together. I stand with you and I will continue to work to end Islamaphobia and to fight for equality.
To my LGBTQIA sisters, brothers, siblings, friends, colleagues, professors, parishioners, and youth, children, and their families:
You are beloved. You are beautifully and wonderfully made. God loves you just the way you are, and so do I!
I am so deeply sorry for the pain and fear you are experiencing right now. I am so sorry for the times you have remained invisible to many in this world and in the Church.
I want you to know that I see you. I see the beautiful imago dei – the image of God – that God marked you with before you even left your mother’s womb.
I am so sorry for the times when I fail to see and to speak up, when I go back to the comforts of my many privileges and forget, and when I continue to contribute to the systems that oppress.
I want you to know I will continue to commit to fighting against the many forms of LGBTQIA-phobias and for LGBTQIA equality both in our larger society and in the Church.
I weep with you. I grieve with you. I stand with you.
With much love and a heavy heavy heart,
Let us remember and honor the victims of the Pulse shooting and all victims of hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender identity, color of skin, country of origin, mental or physical ability/needs, or religion.
“Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town.When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.”
– Luke 7:11-17
In early May, I was incredibly moved by the speech given by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch as she denounced the North Carolina bathroom law. (If you haven’t already listened to her speech, I highly recommend that you do.)
After announcing that the Dept. of Justice was filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the state of North Carolina because the bathroom law “create[s] state-sponsored discrimination against transgender individuals,” she stated: “This action is about a great deal more than just bathrooms. This is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we, as a people and as a country, have enacted to protect them – indeed to protect all of us. And it’s about the founding ideals that have led this country – haltingly but inexorably in the direction of fairness, inclusion and equality for all Americans.”
While her statement was particularly powerful, as Loretta continued to boldly claim this was a civil rights issue, what blew so many people away (and brought me to tears) was her closing statement as she spoke directly to the transgender community: “Some of you have lived freely for decades. Others of you are still wondering how you can possibly live the lives you were born to lead. But no matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Dept. of Justice and the entire Obama Administration wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.”
LGBTQI advocate Bob Witeck explained that Loretta’s closing remarks were so important because LGBTQI Americans are “used to living invisibly.” Yet, here Loretta Lynch is going “out of her way to tell them that she (and the Obama Administration) see them. That they are not invisible.” That their lives do – in fact – matter. And that they are going to commit to doing the justice work of fighting for full inclusion and equality.
And Mara Keisling, Executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality said that this was an empowering statement because Loretta Lynch was acknowledging “that we are people…” and to many transgender people, esp. in North Carolina, that acknowledgement is needed. “The relief is just almost overwhelming,” Mara explained. “To just be so dehumanized [by the state of North Carolina] for six weeks now and then to be so humanized by the attorney general – it’s just amazing.”
“We see you, we stand with you, and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.”
These words are similar to the words we hear Jesus speaking in our Gospel text this morning.
It’s an emotional scene in Luke.
Our attention is first centered on a large, excited crowd surrounding Jesus. To their amazement, Jesus has just healed the centurion’s servant in the town of Capernaum. And so this large crowd – along with Jesus’ disciples – follow Jesus, hoping to see what he will do next.
As Jesus and his entourage get close to a town called Nain and approach the town gate, we see another large crowd passing through the gate. But unlike the first crowd, this crowd from the town is weeping and grieving, as they follow the leaders of the group who are carrying the body of a man who had passed away.
This second crowd is participating in a funeral procession. But this is not just any funeral procession. As the author of Luke quickly points out, this dead man was the son of a woman who was poor, powerless, and on the complete margins of society: he was the son of a widow. And – as Luke emphasizes – the dead man was this widow’s only son. Luke’s earliest readers would have known what the funeral procession meant for this first century widow. Since women in first century Palestine were considered property of men and depended economically and socially on first their father, then their husband, and if widowed – their sons, this widow was not only facing another incredible loss in her life. But the death of her only son left her completely destitute without a home, job, health care, and if she received no charity from the community – she would be left with no way to survive.
She was now completely invisible.
No wonder she was sobbing as she passed Jesus at the entrance gate to Nain.
Now, it would have made sense for Jesus, this first century rabbi and his followers to just keep going on their way… For, they had important places to be and important things to do. And why would they notice this widow in the middle of a large crowd in the midst of a funeral procession, anyway? She would not only have been lost in the crowd, but she was also invisible to the world.
However, this widow was not invisible to Jesus. Maybe it was the volume of her weeping and wailing or the desperation in her eyes that caught Jesus’ attention. But whatever it was, as the two large crowds converge, Jesus sees the widow and he stops what he is doing. He has compassion for her: “Do not weep,” he urges her.
Then in front of both large crowds, he does the unimaginable. With no concern for his own reputation, he touches the bier – or the corpse – an act that was forbidden by the law because the corpse was deemed unclean. Then, speaking to the corpse, he says: “Young man, I say to you: Rise!” and then the dead man sits up and starts speaking. And as Jesus gives the man to his mother, the hope of this once destitute and invisible widow for a future and a holistic life has been resurrected.
It is as if Jesus is saying to her: “I see you, I stand with you, and I will do everything I can to protect you going forward.”
Now, I think it is important to note that this kind of compassion Jesus has is not just a light-hearted sympathy for this woman. The Greek word for compassion used here comes from a Greek noun that means the kidneys, the bowels, the heart, the lungs, the liver: the internal organs. In other words, when Jesus sees this widow in her grief and desperation, his entire insides – his guts – churn. They overflow with concern, compassion, and love… for her.
And this is not the only time Jesus stops what he is doing and performs a miracle for people who are invisible – people who are on the margins – because he has a deep, internal compassion for them. When he sees the sick, he is moved with compassion and heals them. When he sees the hungry, he is moved with compassion and feeds them. When blind beggars cry out to him for help, he sees them, is moved with compassion for them, and gives them sight.
“I see you, I stand with you, and I will do everything I can to protect you going forward.”
And thus is with the grieving, destitute widow in our text in Luke.
Here, at the entrance gate to Nain, Jesus sees this invisible woman for who she truly is. Jesus denounces the labels and images that society has placed upon her and instead he sees and affirms the imago dei – the image of God that she was created in before she even left her mother’s womb. Jesus sees and acknowledges her beloved-ness and her humanity – which society has failed to see in her. And seeing this widow in all her pain and in her deep desperation, Jesus is moved with compassion from his most inward being, and he does what he can in that moment to liberate her from the bondage that society has placed upon her.
“I see you, I stand with you, and I will do everything I can to protect you going forward.”
This is the good news that we have in Jesus Christ.
This is the good news that Jesus proclaimed to the first century widow grieving the death of her son outside of Nain and this is the good news Jesus proclaims to us today. He is our loving God in the flesh who sees the unseen. Who affirms our humanity and beloved-ness when the world denies it. Who – when he sees us in all our pain and desperation – his very insides churn and he is moved with deep compassion and love for us. He is our Savior who places his concern for our well-being far above the laws of the religious. He is our advocate who would risk his own reputation in order to ensure that our basic needs are met so that all God’s children can live holistically, as God created us to live.
And because as followers of Jesus we are the eyes, the ears, the hands, and the feet of Christ in the world, Jesus calls us to open our eyes to see and to open our hearts and our guts to be moved with deep compassion, as well.
So I’d like to leave us all with a challenge from St. Louis pastor and Black Lives Matter activist Rev. Traci Blackmon, who said in her sermon at the Justice Conference that “we have a moral obligation to see…[to] notice who is invisible.” That we must ask ourselves: “who are those that are missing, who are those that we do not see? … The challenge for us is to see what we’ve been conditioned not to see… Wherever the marginalized are not seen, heard or cared for, our covenant is broken… [Therefore], look into the eyes of another of God’s creation… past their skin, past their gender, past their sexuality. Look until you see Jesus.”