Category Archives: Uncategorized

I stand with you.

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I know that no words can heal the hurt and ease the deep fears of so many I dearly care for today. I know I can’t say that everything is going to be okay.

However, I do want to say to my Latinx, Syrian, black, immigrant, refugee, LGBTQIA, those who are victims of sexual assault, people of color, diversely abled, and Muslim siblings, friends, acquaintances, youth, parishioners and all who woke up this morning with such pain and fear for your future:

I see you. I hear you. I love you. You matter.

My heart aches with you.

I stand with you. You are not alone.

I will fight stronger and harder against Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, racism, ableism, sexism, fascism, and all other forms of hate with you.

Please know that I am here for you if you need to talk, process, and grieve with or if you would like me to refer you to a support group, counselor, or other form of support.

Whatever you do: take extra care of yourself, your family, your friends, and your neighbors. Talk with others. Hold someone’s hand. Listen to and sit with others in their pain. Reach out to those today who are in extra need of a friend. Cry. Lament. Pray. Walk. Meditate.

Let us join together because we cannot work to overcome hate alone. We must do this together. We are BETTER together.

And may we hold fast to the words of St. Francis of Assisi:

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”

#BlacklivesMatter! #altonsterling #philandocastille

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I have no words right now after hearing about the shooting of ‪#‎philandocastille‬ at a routine traffic stop (only a day after watching the horrific shooting of #altonsterling.)

I only have heart ache for his family, girlfriend, and that sweet four year old girl who saw it all happen and comforted her mother as they sat in the back of the police car.

I only have pain and fear for my black brothers and sisters, as this keeps happening to people who look like them (while not to people who look like me.)

I only have anger at a system that is so broken and racialized that black and brown bodies are being disregarded, dehumanized, and brutalized.

I only have repentance for my own white privilege that continues to benefit from this racialized system.

I only have grief that while I will never have to fear being pulled over or shot because I “look suspicious,” make a quick move, wear a hoodie, take a shortcut through an alley, hold a toy gun, this is the fear so many of my black and brown sisters/brothers/siblings live with every day.

After breaking down in tears this morning, all I can say right now is that ‪#‎blacklivesmatter‬.

#Blacklivesmatter.
#Blacklivesmatter.
#Blacklivesmatter.

#Blacklivesmatter to God.
#Blacklivesmatter to God.
#Blacklivesmatter to God.

To all my black and brown brothers, sisters, siblings, youth, children, friends:

I see you. You matter.
I hear you. Your voice matters.
I cry with you. Your tears matter.
I am angry with you. Your feelings and anger matter.

#Blacklivesmatter!

Let’s Make America Great… For ALL!

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Voted.

And as I did, I was reminded of the brave people who stood up and spoke up – often risking so much – in order to make voting possible for me, my fellow American women, and all others who have once been denied this right.

Yes, we have come a long way. But this is because of the many incredibly courageous people who have and continue to work for equality and justice in this country.

AND we still have a long way to go. And this is why exercising our right to vote is so important.

However, voting is not the only step we must take in working for equality and justice. It is the people who stand up against injustice and hate and fight for equality who have and will continue to move this country forward.

So yes, let’s make America great. But not just for some people. Let’s make America great for ALL people (no matter their skin color or native language, country or neighborhood of origin, sexual orientation or gender identity, economic status or religion.)

Let’s work to make this country great for all people first by educating ourselves on and voting for the issues and leaders who would best work toward equality and justice for all. But then let’s continue doing this difficult and risky justice work by joining together and with those who’ve paved the way for us in standing up/speaking out until ALL are treated equal.

“Why Bad Things Happen To Good People” – Sermon on Mark 9:1-13

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At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” – Luke 13:1-9

At the end of my senior year of college, the compassionate and kind-hearted 15 year old sister of my college boyfriend was killed in a car accident. I will never forget some of the things people said to us after she passed away.

“God just wanted another angel.” “God’s timing is just not our timing.” “Everything happens for a reason.” “Just remember, even though you can’t understand it now, this is all part of God’s plan.” “God only tests us to make us stronger.” “God is in control.” “God never gives us more than we can handle.”

While these family friends meant well, some of the things they said not only made us feel additional pain and anger, inadequacy for not being able to “handle” this tragedy the way we were expected to, and misunderstood and alone during one of the most difficult times of our lives, but they also reinforced some incredibly dangerous ideas about God’s character and God’s relationship with humankind.

I didn’t want to have anything to do with the God these friends spoke of. To be quite honest, I had to work very hard to refrain from screaming back at them: “That’s bull… you know what!” Really? – I kept thinking. This was in God’s plan? God gave this tragedy to us… to test us!? And God wanted another angel, huh? I wanted to ask. Well then, why didn’t God take someone who had lived a long and wonderful life, not a girl who only got to live 15 short years?

And if everything happens for a reason: what about the horrific violent acts that occur across our country and our world? Are those part of God’s plan, too? – I wanted to ask them.

… As Proverbs 25:20 says: “Like vinegar on a wound 
is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.”

A few years after I graduated from college, I found out my college boyfriend and I were not the only ones whose friends sang songs to heavy hearts. When my colleague’s mom was battling cancer, one of his mom’s friends told her she was not praying hard enough… That if she prayed more often and had more faith that God would heal her, she would be healed of her cancer. She prayed frequently but she never healed and she eventually passed away. My colleague told me that even though his mom was one of the most faithful people he knew, sometimes she felt like her cancer was a result of her just not being faithful enough.

While incredibly hurtful and unhealthy, the way this friend responded to her cancer and the way friends responded when my college boyfriend’s sister passed away are very common human responses to tragedy. We want to seek answers to why there is suffering in our world. To make sense of the things that just don’t make sense. Because there has to be a reason for the senselessness in this world, doesn’t there? There has to be a cause for the effect. There has to be someone or something we can blame for human suffering… when our friend’s younger sister dies in a car accident or our friend is diagnosed with cancer. When our brother goes through a painful divorce or we see homelessness and unemployment rates begin to skyrocket. When an earthquake kills thousands or a terrorist attack shakes up our sense of security.

Because if we find a reason – if we find a cause for the tragedy – we think we will then be able to quickly fix the pain of those who are hurting.  And we think that we – ourselves – will be able to avoid the tragedies that we see others face and that we fear might one day hit us. We think that we will be able to avoid these tragedies if we just find their root cause.  If we just refrain from committing those sins, if we just pray more than that person prayed, if we just work harder than those people do, or if we just avoid those people and those places altogether.

*****

This is similar to what the Galileans who spoke with Jesus in our passage in Luke were struggling with. They – too – were seeking answers to why certain tragedies had recently occurred. They wanted to know why the Roman governor Pilate had slaughtered a group of fellow Galilean Jews while they were making sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem and then mixed the dead’s blood with the sacrificial blood. These Galileans who were talking with Jesus wanted to know why a tower near the pool of Siloam unexpectedly collapsed and killed the 18 people who were at the tower. These tragedies must have happened for a reason… because everything happens for a reason. And that reason must have been that those slaughtered in the Temple and those 18 killed by the collapsing tower sinned something terrible… They must have really ticked off God – because – as most first century religious folks believed – tragedy was a punishment from God and suffering was a form of God’s testing.

But as the Galileans begin speculating, Jesus asks them: “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you!”

No, these tragedies have nothing to do with the character or actions of the victims. No, God does not punish or test people for their sins with state sanctioned violence or natural disasters. No, God does not punish or test people with illness, the sudden death of a loved one, the loss of a job, homelessness, war, or any other tragedy that leaves us wondering, “why God?” God isn’t the wrathful, short-tempered vengeful God many confuse God to be. And you – Jesus seems to be saying to the Galileans around him – are not standing here now avoiding tragedy because you are any better or more faithful than these victims are.

No, I tell you!

The way the world works isn’t that bad things just happen to bad people and good things just happen to good people… as much as we may wish this to be so. Because many times good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. Tragedy just hits, and it can hit any of us. And it isn’t God doing this to our neighbors or to us. It just happens. It’s part of being human in this good and yet fallen world where we are both sinner and saint. Where we are both created good and in God’s image and yet we all fall short of the glory of God. It is the unexplainable mystery of being predestined and having free will: where – as humans, we are both chosen and called by God and yet we also get to choose what paths in life we are to take and we get to choose how we are to live. And it’s the crappy part of free will because with free will – with human choice – comes the bad, the evil, the suffering, the tragedies. However, we must also remember that with free will – with choice – comes the very very good, as well. We cannot have creativity, kindness, acts of compassion, hope, joy, peace, love, or even faith without it.

*****

Jesus then tells the Galileans a parable.

“A man has a fig tree in a garden,” Jesus says. “But when the man sees the fig tree, he realizes it is not producing any fruit. He finds his gardener and says: ‘Look at this fig tree! It is not doing what it is supposed to be doing. For three years it’s been sitting here, and it is still not producing any fruit. It’s just sitting in my garden wasting soil, wasting space, doing nothing. There is no point to it being here, so cut it down!’ But the gardener says: ‘Don’t give up on it just yet. Give the fig tree another year. I will take care of it and tend to it regularly. I will dig around it and place manure on it, so it will bear fruit. In a year, check it out, and if it still doesn’t bear fruit by then, you may cut it down.’”

You see, Jesus is reiterating to the Galileans through this parable that God isn’t an unloving tyrant. Even if God’s people are not bearing fruit, God doesn’t just immediately cut us down and throw us away like the owner of the garden wanted to do with his fig tree. Instead, like the gardener, God is our loving advocate. God cares for us and tends to us. God sees our potential, holds onto hope that we will be fruit bearers, and doesn’t give up on us.

Therefore – Jesus seems to be urging the Galileans – since God is not the punishing and testing God they assumed God to be, rather than focusing on finding reasons for why bad things happen, the Galileans should instead focus on their own lives: on being bearers of fruit for the sake of the kingdom of God.

Repent, he urges. Turn around. Turn from your old ways and turn toward God. Choose God’s way.

But there is urgency in this parable, as well. “Let’s see what happens in a year,” the gardener says. “Let’s see if the fig tree bears fruit a year from now.”

Jesus knows that life is precious. Heck, the recent tragedies that took place in the Temple and at the tower – and not to mention, Jesus’ impending journey toward the cross – remind him of this fact. And the same goes for us. When we hear of the tragedies and suffering around us, we are often reminded of our own mortality.

From dust we came and to dust we shall return.

Tragedies often remind us just how fragile and precious life can be. Yes, bad things happen – to good people even – and can happen to anyone of us – at any time.

This realization can be extremely scary.

And yet, we can allow our fears to overcome us or we can instead embrace this reality and place our focus on being bearers of fruit. We can continue our old ways, or we can turn from them and turn toward God. We have been chosen and we have a choice. And we can choose to allow our fear of our mortality and life’s fragility to keep us from actually living and loving, or we can choose to embrace our mortality and the fact that life is fragile and we can let this realization inspire us to live and to love fully.

To be present in the moment. To take advantage of the precious time we do have with our loved ones. To sit with, cry alongside, and listen to those who are suffering and – rather than sing songs to their heavy hearts – we can acknowledge that their suffering just flat out sucks. To not just take up space in the world, but rather to use our gifts to make a difference in the lives of those around us. To make our precious time here count.

Why do bad things happen to good people? – we ask. It’s the great unexplainable mystery. We don’t know why. They just happen. But what we do know is that we have a compassionate God who knows our pain more than anyone else does. Who weeps over tragedy, suffering, and injustice in this world and never leaves us to grieve or to suffer alone. And who loves us so much that God does not give up on us, but instead continues to tend to us, to care for us, and to believe in us.

So may we choose to turn toward this loving God. May we choose to be bearers of fruit: and to live and to love.

Amen.

 

Guest Post at RevGalBlogPals: “The Pastoral is Political Valentine’s Day Edition”

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I’m blogging over at Revgalblogpals about a few things to consider this Valentine’s Day:

While Valentine’s Day is a fun holiday for many, it can also be painful, stressful, and lonely for others….

Valentine’s Day leaves a large carbon footprint and creates a demand for unethical goods…”

To read the article, click here.

“We Need the Cross” – Homily for Good Friday

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Well, it’s Good Friday, and if I am honest with you, sometimes I wish we could go from celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday directly to celebrating Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday… and skipping everything in between.

But isn’t this true for many of us? Isn’t it common for us to want to avoid and skip over the cross: to avoid the suffering and injustice that is constantly taking over the lives of those around us?

And yet, as followers of Jesus, we are called to be resurrection people, living lives here and now that proclaim the promise of new life to both our neighbors and ourselves.  And to avoid and skip over the pain and suffering of those around us and even within our own lives is to choose to not accept and proclaim new, everlasting life.  For we know that we cannot have and experience the resurrection without first experiencing what comes before it.

And so those joyful shouts of “Hosannas” we shouted as we waved our palm branches this past Sunday have now become angry shouts of “Crucify!”

But this is life, isn’t it? There have and will be times in our lives when we think we are just about out of the wilderness; just about ready to see and experience new life… But just as we begin waving our palm branches and shouting “Hosanna! Salvation has come!” – things unexpectedly take a downhill turn. Those we trust the most may turn on us and betray us, the crowds around us might spit on us and mock us, and what looks like our escape from captivity sometimes ends up being the very thing that captures us and leads us on our own painful journey on a dirty and bumpy road through Jerusalem.

But it is in these times when we need the cross the most. It is in these times when we realize that we – indeed – need a God who was not only resurrected, but who also walked a similar path. That we need a God who knows what it’s like to experience broken relationships, grieve the loss of loved ones, watch those closest to him look directly in the face of injustice, and be betrayed by friends and ridiculed by crowds. And when things get really dark, we need a God who knows what it is like to feel completely and utterly alone and abandoned – even by his own Father, even by God – to the point where he cried out in his final moments of anguish and pain: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When we skip over and avoid the cross, we miss out on a God who is with us in the flesh, walking alongside us as we walk what may sometimes be a long, lonely road.

But to skip out on the cross also causes us to miss out on a radical and bold Jesus we are all called to follow. For, it was Jesus’ loud, subversive voice that challenged injustice and proclaimed on behalf of the “least of these” that got him into trouble in the first place and led him to be silenced on the cross.

But – although those who nailed Jesus there did so to suppress him, after Jesus breathed his last breath, the temple curtain tore in two, the earth shook, and the rocks split.

Death did not have the final say that dark night.

And after a few days, we will realize that Jesus’ voice was shouting and proclaiming louder than ever before as his broken and bloody body hung silently and still on the cross.

Brothers and sisters, we need the cross.

So as we gather together this evening, let us follow Jesus toward it – remembering – as we do – that he is right alongside us as we take every step.  Because when we do follow him, we might be overwhelmed at how much we really do need this loud, radical, and personal Jesus of the cross that we too often miss – the One who will soon lead us past the cross and onto the empty tomb.

“A Confession and A Commission” – Sermon on Matthew 16:13-20 #ferguson #gaza #fightfor15 #borderchildren

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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. I have heard it preached, studied it in Bible studies, or have heard it used as an example of how to confess who Jesus is numerous times throughout my life. And one of the most popular claims I’ve heard about it is that this text is about Peter’s faith and his great confession.

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 and was fearful of walking on water toward Jesus. 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 and confession.

However, if we look at the passage that immediately follows this one, we might come to another conclusion. Starting in vs. 21, Jesus begins to tell the disciples that he MUST journey to 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 doesn’t 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 if this text is not about Peter’s confession? What is it about?

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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, 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 whom he really is. We might think that the Temple or one of the synagogues would have been a better place.

And yet, 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.

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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 Church body.

You see, 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 polar opposite of the oppressive Roman Empire that dominated over the lower class folks.

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 – not the elite, wealthy and powerful – as the Empire did – but rather the poor and sick, the women and widows, the immigrants and ethnic minorities – those who were considered the last and least in society.

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Now, we have come a long way since first century Rome. So it may seem very difficult for us to understand or even comprehend the repercussions of such a violent and oppressive Empire. And yet, we don’t have to walk too far from the front steps of Unity Lutheran Church or listen to the local, national, and international news too long before we start to realize that the United States is dangerously moving toward – if not already living into – a modern day Roman Empire.

Don’t we live in one of the most powerful and rich countries in the world, where wealth, status, and capitalism are often worshiped… Where some in our country make 1000s of dollars an hour while others are struggling to even make $8.50 to $9 an hour?  And as a result of this, those of us who are privileged often live well beyond our means, while millions of our neighbors lack opportunities and resources and even suffer from hunger and homelessness?

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 some 60,000 terrified unaccompanied children desperately try to cross the border in order to flee violence, we detain them and call out to send them back instead of providing them with care and assistance?

Don’t we live in a country that proclaims its moral superiority over many other violent nations and yet it is the sole country that funds the majority of military equipment that is creating over 200,000 Gazan refugees and killing more than 2000 of them, almost 500 of whom are children?

Don’t we live in a country where racial inequality is so prevalent that there is still an incredibly disproportionate amount of people of color who are unjustifiably being dehumanized, sentenced, imprisoned, or even killed by police, and when done so, such actions are “justified” or covered up – as we see in Ferguson and in the case of Marissa Alexander? And when people who choose to exercise their First Amendment Rights to peacefully and lawfully protest against such hate crimes, they are being met by tear gas, rubber bullets, and forceful arrests by a militant police force armed and dressed as if it were ready to declare war?

In our present-day oppressive Roman Empire, our worship of the Caesars and Pans – of consumerism, materialism, power, and wealth – 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 and privileges we 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/forces and spreading his good news of love and salvation from injustice 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 – through all of Jesus’ followers.

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 the entire Church body who hold the keys 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 and 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… 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 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 Empire.

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.


A Few Ways to Participate in Advocacy in your Area:

Ferguson:

HandsUpUnited (find a vigil or rally near you: several on Mon., Aug. 25 and Tues., Aug. 26)

– “By Their Strange Fruit” timeline and links to follow

– Follow on Twitter: @SideofLoveCampaign, @FergusonUnity, @BTSFblog

GAZA (End the Siege on Gaza):

– Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network

– Follow on Facebook and/or Twitter: @jvplive (Jewish Voice for Peace), @codepink, US Palestinian Community Network

Children at the Border: 

#ActsofLove Campaign

#TheyAreChildren Campaign

FastforFamilies (Campaign for Immigration Reform and Citizenship)

– Follow on Twitter: @SojoImmigration, @RI4A (Reform Immigration For America)

Fightfor15 (Campaign to raise minimum wage):

– FightFor15.org

– Why I Choose to Fightfor15

– Follow on Twitter: @SEIU, @Fightfor15

 

Lift Up Your Voice! – Joining Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Unfinished Movement for Justice and Equality

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Today is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: the one day of the year when many people across the nation take off school and work to remember and celebrate Dr. King and his work for racial justice and equality.  However, too often, this day serves as merely a holiday from our “every-day activities” and maintains only a small “memory” of what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and so many other unnamed faithful and courageous voices proclaimed and peacefully fought for in order to bring about an end to the Jim Crow racial segregation laws fifty years ago.  Consequently, there tends to lack on this holiday a recognition of the racial and economic injustice that continues to persist throughout our society today and thus King’s unfinished work we are all called to continue to work for.

However, yesterday I had the opportunity to gather at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church on the far South Side of Chicago with more than 2,000 people from all over the Chicago area who have not forgotten about the majority of this nation’s people who have still not seen Dr. King’s dream fully come true.

“We are not coming to engage in any histrionic gesture. We are not coming to tear up Washington. We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. We read one day, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” But if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech at the National Cathedral during his work on the Poor People’s Campaign – on March 31, 1968, a week before his assassination.

Organized by IIRON and The People’s Lobby, the event was called “Hope in the Age of Crisis: Reclaiming Dr. King’s Radical Vision for Economic Equality” and included a public meeting and a call to action by community and religious leaders, such as: Rev. Dwight Gardner, president of IIRON and pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Gary, IN; Bishop Wayne Miller of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of American; Rabbi Brant Rosen of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, IL; Jack Darin of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club; and Bishop Sally Dyck of the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church – among many others.

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The meeting began with a congregational song led by a combined choir: “Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of Liberty…” and a call to action by Rev. Dwight Gardner, who proclaimed: “We must stand!  We must stand together!”  Throughout the meeting, several Chicago and Illinois elected officials were called up to the front of the sanctuary and asked to publicly agree to support legislation that would protect the common good.

Issues that were discussed included:

Increasing Revenue Rather than Cutting Programs that Help those Most in Need

Advancing Worker Justice: Creating Good Jobs that Don’t Exploit Workers

Environmental Protection: Stronger Regulations on Fracking

Ending the “New Jim Crow”: Mass Incarceration

As we remember the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and so many others who have courageously and peacefully fought for the common good, let us not forget that we – too – are called to do the same until all of God’s children are cared for and treated equally.

Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins…

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.” – Isaiah: 58:1, 6-10

So join the movement to “stand together” to continue Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work of racial and economic justice for all!

UPCOMING EVENTS:

IIRON & The People’s Lobby Orientation; Who We Are/What We Believe: Wed., Jan. 29, 6:30-8:30pm

Fundamentals of Organizing Full-Day Leadership Training: Sat., Feb. 1, 9AM-1PM, 2-4:30PM

Protecting Our Environment Taskforce: Thurs., Jan. 30, 6:30-8:00PM

Advancing Worker Justice Taskforce: Tues., Feb. 4, 7-8:30PM

Ending Mass Incarceration Taskforce: Thurs., Feb. 27, 6-7:30PM

*Find out more information at: IIRON.org

For more information about this movement and the root of the economic problems we face today, check out this video:

“There is another thing closely related to racism that I would like to mention as another challenge. We are challenged to rid our nation and the world of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, poverty spreads its nagging, prehensile tentacles into hamlets and villages all over our world. Two-thirds of the people of the world go to bed hungry tonight. They are ill-housed; they are ill-nourished; they are shabbily clad. I’ve seen it in Latin America; I’ve seen it in Africa; I’ve seen this poverty in Asia…

As I noticed these things, something within me cried out, “Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?” And an answer came: “Oh no!” Because the destiny of the United States is tied up with the destiny of India and every other nation. And I started thinking of the fact that we spend in America millions of dollars a day to store surplus food, and I said to myself, “I know where we can store that food free of charge—in the wrinkled stomachs of millions of God’s children all over the world who go to bed hungry at night.” And maybe we spend far too much of our national budget establishing military bases around the world rather than bases of genuine concern and understanding.

Not only do we see poverty abroad, I would remind you that in our own nation there are about forty million people who are poverty-stricken. I have seen them here and there. I have seen them in the ghettos of the North; I have seen them in the rural areas of the South; I have seen them in Appalachia. I have just been in the process of touring many areas of our country and I must confess that in some situations I have literally found myself crying…

This is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.” more of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech at the National Cathedral during his work on the Poor People’s Campaign.

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Related Articles:

MLK Celebration Pushes Economic Equality (on abc.local.go.com)

Activists at MLK Event Tie Equality to Wages (on chicagotribune.com)

Reclaiming MLK’s Vision of Economic Justice in Chicago! (on rabbibrant.com)

These Children Share Their Dreams… and poignantly show that we still have a long way to go. (on eugenecho.com)

Stop Celebrating Martin Luther King (on redletterchristians.org)

Sermon: “Time to Protestify” (on musingsfromabricolage.com)