Tag Archives: equality

Guest Post at RevGalBlogPals: “The Pastoral Is Political: Be Alert this Advent

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Today I’m writing over at RevGalBlogPals.

“Jesus says: ‘Be alert at all times.’

In other words: wake up and stay woke. And when you see the suffering and injustice of this world, look for the ways God is calling you to proclaim justice and peace and to offer God’s love to those in need. And then rise up and act.

This can be daunting when our news feed constantly updates us on one horrific tragedy after another. The world’s needs just seem too great.

Yet, Jesus does not end here.

‘Hold onto the hope of my return,’ he says, ‘so that your hearts are not weighed down with worries of this life.’ Raise your heads so that you might also see signs of the Kingdom of God that are already present and sprouting up like leaves on a fig tree. Look for signs that God is with us now and that the reign of God is near.

You see, it is necessary for us to find hope as we look for the signs of how God’s Kingdom is already present in this world. No, we must not ignore or downplay the injustice and suffering around us. However, in times such as these, we will not be able to rise up if we only focus our eyes on what is terrible.

So this Advent, may we slow down and choose to be alert. 

You can read the full article here.

Day 6: Service Learning Day at the ELCA Youth Gathering

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Yesterday was our service learning day for the ELCA Youth Gathering. So we got up (suuuper early), put our orange t-shirts on, and had our grocery bought breakfast.

But despite how early it was, we still managed to have a lot of fun!

Then we hopped on the train and headed to the NRG Center to catch our service learning bus. The train was a sea of orange!

We arrived at our service learning destination with one other church from the Metro-Chicago synod: Independence Heights Park, which is located in the national register of historic places Independence Heights, the first black municipality in Texas. We first heard about the history of the community.

Then we got to work. We repainted murals around the park.

Some of the kids attending the summer camp program at the park joined us.

When we finished our murals, we hung out and played games with the kids at the camp.

Our youth group did a fantastic job with the children! One girl, Nevaeh, had tried to make a basketball shot before but could never make it in the hoop. Our youth encouraged her and showed her what she needed to do. At one point, she said she could not do it. But our youth encouraged her, and she ended up making 15-20 baskets! Our group saw God in these children’s and encounters with them and realized that encouragement of others goes a very long way!

At the end of our service day, we headed back to the NRG Arena to have some fun at the community life center.

At dinner time, we had to walk a little ways so we could have some good Texan barbecue at Pappa’s BBQ.

Then we headed back to the NRG Stadium for our mass gathering.

The theme for this day was God’s Grace Changes Everything.

We first heard from Elizabeth Peter, who said: “No matter how you’ve been excluded, god brings you into the fold and says you matter. And there is no limit to God’s grace.”

Then we heard a powerful message from Michaela Shelley, who told her story about her own struggles and how she experienced God’s grace grace in and through them.

She said: “God’s grace isn’t just about forgiveness. It’s also about how God leads us into the person we will be. No matter how many times you may curse God, God will always love you and you will always matter. This is grace.”

We heard another powerful message from the Rev. Will Starkweather about his struggles with anxiety and depression. He said: “Our God is in business of makings beautiful people and things out of broken people and things. We are all recovering from something. There’s grace for that.

Whatever you’re carrying, you are what you: a beloved child of God.”

Finally we heard from the Rev. Nadia Bolz Weber, who explained:

“If your life really sucks right now, just know this is not your ultimate life long reality

Grace is way in which god is great heavenly composter making beautiful things out of feasies

Nobody ever becomes their ideal self. An ideal self is a lie. The truth is an ideal self doesn’t exist. The self God loves is your actual authentic self. The word for this is grace. God doesn’t wait for you to get a little better at or a little skinnier than or a little whatever before loving you. You are magnificently imperfect. And God loves this authentic you. God’s voice calls us worthy.”

She ended having the entire gathering of 30,000 youth and adults publicly renounce the Accuser… we publicly renounced ableism, heteronormativity, sexism, White Supremacy, perfectionism, and the lies we tell ourselves and hear from others.

What a powerful day! We look forward to sleeping in a bit tomorrow!

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.

“Jesus’ Mission Statement” – Epiphany 3 Sermon on Luke 4:14-21

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Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “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 favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” – Luke 4:14-21

If you have read any of my faith reflections or have heard me speak a lot – whether in church or at community events – you may have noticed that I love our passage from today’s Gospel.

I like to reference it… A LOT.

I often quote this passage – not only because of its content (which I DO, in fact, love), but also because it is at the heart of Jesus’ ministry and message. It is Jesus’ inaugural address… His thesis… His mission statement. And it foreshadows everything we are about to hear him say and see him do for the rest of Luke’s 24 chapters.

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We are at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He has already been baptized by John in the River Jordan, and it’s not been long since he left the wilderness, where he spent 40 days and nights being tempted by the devil. And now here – in our passage for today – Jesus, who is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, returns to the region of Galilee.  And after teaching in several area synagogues, has reached his hometown of Nazareth to preach his first recorded sermon in Luke’s Gospel.

It’s the Sabbath day. And so, just as he had done throughout his life, Jesus goes to the local synagogue where he and his family worship. And as was the custom in the synagogue, Jesus stands up to read the scripture: an action that almost any male attendee could do. When he is given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, he unrolls the scroll, selects a few verses from the 61st chapter in Isaiah, and begins to read:

“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 favor.”

Then Jesus rolls up the scroll, gives it back to the attendant, and sits down. At this point, everyone’s eyes are fixed on Jesus. It was custom for the reader to sit after he read the scripture and to give an interpretation of what the scripture meant. So everyone in the synagogue was anxiously waiting for Jesus to do just that.

*****

I sometimes wonder what this crowd in the Nazareth synagogue was hoping to hear from their very own Jesus. While they first find his words to be gracious, their approval of Jesus’ message does not last very long, as we will soon see when we continue to read the rest of Luke 4 next week.

This Isaiah text speaks of hope and justice for those most vulnerable in the Roman Empire of Jesus’ day: the poor, the blind, the prisoners, and the oppressed. This text even gives hope to the slaves and to those in debt. This year of the Lord’s favor that is mentioned in Isaiah is the year of Jubilee, which was supposed to occur every 50 years and was the year when land would be returned to its original owners, all Hebrew slaves would be set free and could go home to their families, and all debts would be remitted.

For those who were suffering and most vulnerable, this was not just good news. It was great news. It was liberating news.

And as Jesus sits down, he explains to the congregation: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” It is taking place right here and now.

*****

While this may have sounded too good to be true to some who gathered to hear Jesus in the synagogue that day, I wonder if this started to make others feel a little uneasy. I wonder if some of Jesus’ neighbors and acquaintances started to question how this was good news for them. Where was the good news for those who were not the poor nor the blind, not the imprisoned nor the oppressed, not the slave nor those who were in debt? Didn’t their lives matter, too?

This sort of reminds me of a common response many people have made this past year to the blacklivesmatter movement. Some people have not felt comfortable with the phrase blacklivesmatter because they feel it suggests that other lives don’t matter. Many of these individuals have responded to blacklivesmatter with the phrase: “all lives matter” because – they often state: “don’t we believe that all lives matter equally” or “don’t we believe that all lives matter to God?”

I understand where the question is coming from.  But the answer is: “Yes… AND…”

Yes… As people of faith, and as Christians, we DO believe that all lives matter to God. Because they do. And yet, this is the very reason why saying blacklivesmatter is so important today… Because while we know that all lives do matter to God, 400 years of systemic racism in our country has claimed otherwise. To say blacklivesmatter doesn’t mean that black lives matter more than other lives. Rather, it’s quite the opposite. To say blacklivesmatter is to admit that in our culture and throughout our country black lives have not mattered and still do not matter as much as white lives have and do. To say blacklivesmatter is to say that systemic racism is wrong. It is to say that black lives DO matter, too!

One way many people have explained this is through a metaphor of a burning house. If there is a house that catches on fire, you send a firefighter to that particular house, not because the other houses on the block don’t also matter, but because the house that is on fire especially matters in that moment. Blacklivesmatter activists are saying: “right now, our house is on fire.”

I heard another great metaphor explaining blacklivesmatter from a fellow pastor. He said that if one of his children came up to him and said: “Dad, I don’t feel like you love me as much as you love my sisters,” that child doesn’t need her father to respond to her: “Honey, I love all of my children the same.” Rather, she needs her father to say: “Honey, I hear you. I see you. I love you very much. I am sorry for the things I’ve done to make you feel this way, and I will do whatever I can to make sure you know that you matter to me just as much as your sisters matter to me.” And this daughter may need her father to give her some extra attention for a while.

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I think this is similar to what Jesus is claiming in his mission statement at the beginning of his ministry as he reads from Isaiah in front of his home congregation in Luke. The lives of those whom the world has cast away – the poor, the blind, the prisoner, the oppressed, the slave, the one in debt: the last and least – DO in fact matter to God. Their houses have been on fire. And now Jesus – this God in the flesh – has come to say: “I hear you. I see you. I love you. You matter.” And this God in the flesh comes, proclaiming good news full of justice, equality, and liberation for those who need it most.

As David Lose states in his commentary on Luke 4: “In this first sermon of Jesus, we cannot avoid the conclusion that perhaps one of the chief powers of Jesus is to declare that God sees all of us – not just those the world sees, but everyone. Because the very fact that Jesus’ sermon is all about what God will do for the least of those in the world tells us that God gives special attention to those whom the world doesn’t want to see.”

*****

In the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus begins his ministry by proclaiming this radical mission statement in the synagogue in his hometown. And then throughout the book of Luke, we see this mission statement being carried out as Jesus continues to love the last and the least: the women, the widows, the children, the sick, the poor, the blind, the lepers, and those who are held captive in a variety of ways. But Jesus doesn’t end there. He commands his followers to do the same: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

*****

I love that our second reading from 1 Corinthians is paired with Luke 4 this morning. In 1 Corinthians, Paul is writing to the early Christians in the Corinth church, calling them to unity and to embrace and celebrate their differences rather than allowing their differences to divide them. Essentially, Paul explains that contrary to what the world says – in Christ, there are no last and least. There are no outsiders. For ALL are welcomed into the body of Christ. And ALL members of the body are needed.

“Indeed,” Paul says to the Corinthians (and to us today, as well), “the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the ear would say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? …As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.'”

You see, every single one of us here is needed in the body, not despite of our differences, but because of our differences. Each one of us has a different story with different struggles, joys, failures, successes. Each one of us has different gifts and insights to share, life experiences and life circumstances. And each one of us – with our often complicated story – is needed in this body. No matter if the world sees us or not, God sees us. God hears us. God loves us – joys, successes, failures, struggles and all.

And as members of the body of Christ, we are called to see, to hear, and to love our brothers and sisters in this way, as well, and to give special care to those the world casts out.  

Paul continues: “the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”

When Paul was writing to the Corinth church, he was specifically talking to and about members of the body of Christ: that all of us are called to embrace one another’s differences and to see, love, and hear our fellow members of the body of Christ. For us, this means that we are called to embrace the diversity within this body and to offer this kind of love and care for our fellow members here at Ebenezer Lutheran Church, as well for all of our brothers and sisters in the Church (with a capital “C”) – across all denominations and throughout the world. However, our call to love and care is not limited to only our neighbors within the body of Christ. As we see in Jesus’ mission statement and throughout his ministry, the good news is for ALL members of the human family – whether Christian or not.

*****

Here in Luke 4, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, we hear him boldly reciting his radical mission statement: “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 favor.”

As David Lose continues to explain in his commentary: “[This means that] God sees all, loves all, and intends and promises to redeem all. It also means that God sees the parts of us that we don’t want seen. That God sees the parts of us that we deem ugly and unlovable and loves us anyway. That God will not wait for us to improve enough to be loved, and that God is never satisfied that we are all we can be. God loves us enough to see us, God loves us enough to forgive us, God loves us enough to challenge us, and God loves us enough to send us out to see and love others – especially those the world does not see. To do that is to share in the peculiar power that drives Jesus to preach such an odd and inclusive sermon. God sees all, loves all, and intends and promises to redeem all. Good news for those who heard it then and for those who hear it today.”

So may each one of us – cherished and important members of the body of Christ – place Jesus’ mission statement at the heart of our lives and our ministries. May we be bold enough to see, to hear, to embrace our brothers and sisters and to spread this good news to all – especially to, for, and with those who need it the most!

 

 

Encouragement for My Fellow Women Pastors

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A little encouragement for my fellow women pastors (and faith leaders of all traditions) out there:

Yesterday, a parishioner told me that when her two young daughters saw me a few weeks ago, one of them said: “Is that Pastor Emily? You know, she is the only woman pastor I’ve ever seen.” Her mom said she was surprised that her daughter recognized this, and she told me she was so thankful her children have a woman pastor and are able to hear a woman’s voice in the pulpit.

Fellow women pastors (and faith leaders): I am so grateful for each and every one of you. I know it can be extremely difficult to constantly have to face and shut down sexism and stereotypes that are still prevalent in many religious institutions/communities and even in our society. No matter how hard it may be, remember that you are beloved, your voices matter, and you are making a difference in so many people’s lives (young and old).

And I’d like to say a special thank you to all the women pastors and faith leaders in my childhood/youth/adulthood for being those important voices in my life, for modeling what female faith leadership looks like, and showing me that I – too – have a voice in ministry.

“Holy Ground” – Curriculum for Youth Mission/Service & Learning Trip

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Mission and service trips mean little when participants on the trip do not take time to reflect on the service work they participate in. In August, I took 28 youth (in 6th-12th grade) from the Edgewater neighborhood in Chicago on a mission/service and learning trip to Dubuque, IA. Each night, my youth gathered together for worship, large group discussions, and small group discussions where they reflected on their experiences for the day.  (Each small group remained the same throughout the week.)

The following is the curriculum I developed for our trip.

 


 

Mission/Service and Learning Trip CURRICULUM
Theme: Holy Ground

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DAY 1: 

(Day of travel, group building through low/high ropes course, pizza at local restaurant, prepare to lead Sunday worship service at host church the next morning.)

INTRODUCTIONS (15 min)

Explain: Each night on our trip we are going to have a faith discussion and reflect on and talk about what we’ve done so far, learned so far, or how we have experienced being in God’s presence. We will also spend time in worship. Each night during discussions, we will break into small discussion groups. Your group will be the same group each night, so you will have an opportunity to get to know the others in your group pretty well. Tonight, we will just have a short time to break into discussion groups and get to know one another better. (Break into groups)

SMALL GROUPS:
– Everyone: say name, grade going into, school, and something interesting about yourself
– Everyone: share what you enjoyed so far today and/or what you are looking forward to on this trip

PRACTICE/PREP for Sunday worship

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DAY 2:

(Led Sunday morning worship at host church, potluck with host church, Sunday Funday: fun activities around Dubuque.)

Materials Needed: copies of Ann Voskamp quote and closing prayer, Bibles, small group discussion questions, marker and paper or board to draw/write on

Team Building Activities: (Break into groups of 4-5 and ask the groups to discuss a few of the following questions.  After a few questions, switch groups and have them answer a few more of the questions.)  (5-7 min)

1. If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
2. What are two of your favorite things to do?
3. What are three things that make you laugh?
4. Name four things you do after you finish school.
5. What is your favorite tv show and why?
6. What’s your favorite place to visit and why?
7. Describe an embarrassing situation that occurred to you.
8. If you could be a famous character from a movie, book, play, who would you be?
9. Who is your favorite music artist?
10. If you could move anywhere in the world for a year, where would you move?
11. Tell about your family (parent/guardians, siblings, etc.)
12. Tell where you grew up
13. Tell about one memory from your childhood that sticks out to you
14. If you have moved, talk about how it felt to move and why

Intro to Theme:

LARGE GROUP: (5-7 min)

Explain: Our theme this week is Holy Ground and all week we are going to explore what this means and looks like both here in the Dubuque and when we live our every day lives back at home.

Ask: What do you think I mean when I say Holy Ground? (holy= sacred, connected with God, revered/honored) What did it mean in biblical times? (In Ancient Near East, there were particular locations and places that were considered “holy” or “holy ground” – places where God dwelled – such as the Ark of Covenant or the Holy of Holies.  The Holy of Holies was veiled away in the Temple and only accessible to the High Priest. Such places required people to pay special reverence or deep respect for the space.)

Read: quote by Ann Voskamp (who wrote about her experience spending a weekend with monks in a monastery on a silent retreat)

“We no longer have the Holy of holies veiled away in the Temple, no longer the Ark of Covenant that couldn’t be touched or you’d be struck dead. Yes, we are the people who wonder, “What is holiness? Where is holiness?”…
I feel the heat whisper of God, “Lo, I am with you always…. here in a monastery and there in your kitchen and I am Holy and I am everywhere and what is below your sole is always sacred and see, Child, see.” Life is the holy experience and any given hour is hallowed ground and see, Child, see, and it’s a week now since a weekend with monks. I stand in this domestic cloister that shakes with noise, stand over a kitchen sink full, on a cork floor dirty, and there is no other way to see His face, hear His voice, feel His heat, but to pray right here in this sacred everyday.
 Because any old monastery will do.” – Ann Voskamp

Ask: What does this quote say about Holy Ground today? Where is Holy Ground in our lives?  How/when have we experienced Holy Ground in our lives? (Share examples of how God is present in our lives.) Is this place where we are currently at this week Holy Ground? How so? (Any specific examples?)

 

SMALL GROUPS: (10 min.)

ASK: How have you experienced being on Holy Ground – or in God’s presence – so far on this trip?

READ: Exodus 3:1-6 (have volunteers read and everyone follow along)
– ASK: In your own words, what happens in this text?
– When Moses searches to find answers about the burning bush, what happens? (His searching leads him into a conversation with God – a holy conversation.)
– What does God ask him to do next? (Take off his sandals.)
– Have any of you ever been asked or expected to take off your shoes or sandals when you walked into a place? When or where? – (homes? Apartments? Etc.)
– If so, why do you think you are supposed to take off your shoes in these places? (You don’t want to get dirt from outside on the ground and dirty someone’s house. Ultimately, this is an act of respecting the person and the person’s home.)
– EXPLAIN: In many cultures, homes, or religions, removing shoes when entering a place or a home is a way to show reverence (or great respect) for the person hosting and his/her place/belongings.
– So why do you think God asked Moses to remove his sandals?
– EXPLAIN: Removing sandals was a form of respect/reverence in Moses’ day, kind of like today, when we take off our shoes in some people’s homes. In Moses’ day, this was a gesture people did when they entered a holy place of divine presence (or a place that was considered holy ground and in God’s presence.) In this scripture passage, removing sandals is a gesture that honors the holiness of this ground, this mountain, and this God. Removing shoes is a practice that is still used in Islam and some other religions. (If you enter a Mosque – a place of worship in Islam religion – you take off your shoes.)

LARGE GROUP: (20 min)

– RECAP: So let’s recap: What is holy Ground? What was it for Moses? What is it for us today? What does it mean for Moses to take off shoes his shoes?

– EXPLAIN: As I mentioned already, we don’t consider just certain places (like the Ark of Covenant or the Holy of Holies, or a church) to be holy ground. Our churches are places that are holy ground, but so is every other place we stand in God’s presence. And since God is always present with us, holy ground is everywhere, in and amidst all of God’s creation (which means holy ground is both when we are on God’s earth, the land, outdoors, but also among God’s people).  This means God is with us everywhere – all the time – and we can experience God’s presence everywhere, but that then also means we must – like in our Bible passage – “remove our sandals” when we are on Holy Ground. In other words: Since Moses was on holy ground, he was asked to respect that holy ground by taking off his sandals.

– ASK: Since today we are always on holy ground, we are expected to also “take off our shoes.” What do you think that means for us? Do I mean that we literally need to walk around barefoot all the time? Or does this mean something else?  (We don’t have to remove our sandals all the time. Rather, we need to show reverence – or deep respect – for God’s creation.)  So what does this look like?

– EXPLAIN: We will specifically think about this in 2 ways this week: 1. Respect and revere God’s earth. 2. Respect and revere God’s other creatures – animals, human beings.

– ASK: What does this look like? (This week? And when we return home?)

– EXPLAIN: (And write on the board) In the Church, we often use a word called STEWARDSHIP or being good Stewards. Does anyone know what that means? (dictionary definition: the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care)

– EXPLAIN: God has put God’s earth and all of God’s creatures in our care. So we are called to be good stewards of God’s earth and creatures. This means we are to take care of God’s earth, animals, plants, etc. AND take care of God’s people and treat them with respect. This is how we “take off our sandals” in holy ground.  Besides showing reverence, removing our sandals or shoes when we are standing on holy ground enables us to have a closer connection with that ground. How might this be? (It draws us closer to the ground because we are actually touching it with our bare skin. When we are barefoot, we can feel every texture of the ground – every stone, every piece of dirt, every smooth puddle of mud, every sliver of grass.)  In the same way, as we respect/revere God’s creation – as we recognize and honor the holy ground we are on, we have a better understanding of God and have a closer connection with God.

This week, we will be intentionally aware of being on holy ground (being in God’s presence). We will have opportunities to be aware of this as we do service work, work in gardens (on God’s earth), learn about organizations that help God’s people live healthy lives, etc.

– ASK: But we will also be aware of being in Holy Ground and “take off our shoes” – or show reverence and respect – for the people we encounter and the places we visit or stay.  How so?  (How do we respect the people and places we are staying, visiting, etc.: picking up after ourselves, throwing trash away, saying please/thank you, getting to know people we are working with, etc.) And while we are doing these activities and talking to and meeting new people, and learning about others’ differences and similarities, we will experience a closer connection with God.

– EXPLAIN: Although we will be standing on holy ground here in Dubuque, when we return to our every day lives back in Chicago, we will also be in Holy Ground, so we need to remember that what we are called to do here is also what we are called to do when we return home.

CLOSING PRAYER: (Pray Together as large group):

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, 
O Holy Spirit, 
that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, 
O Holy Spirit, 
that I love what is holy.
Strengthen me, 
O Holy Spirit, 
to defend all that is holy.
Guard and Protect me, then, 
O Holy Spirit, 
that I always may be holy. Amen. – Augustine of Hippo

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DAY 3:

(Worked in community garden at Manasseh House: Affordable Housing for Single Women)

Materials Needed: marker and board/paper to write on; Bibles, construction paper, markers, closing prayer)

LARGE GROUP: STUFF

REVIEW AND CHECK IN FOR TODAY: (2 min)
– ASK: What is our theme for this week? (holy ground) And what does that mean? (where do we experience holy ground and how?) What did Moses do when he was standing on holy ground? Why? How do we – like Moses – “take off our shoes” while we stand on holy ground?
– EXPLAIN: Today we had the opportunity to “take off our shoes” – to be good stewards of God’s earth and God’s people – while working in the community garden. We are going to now talk more specifically about both of these things.

STEWARDS OF GOD’S EARTH (STUFF) (5 min)
– EXPLAIN: We are first going to talk more about being stewards of God’s earth…

– ASK: How many of you had difficulty packing all of your stuff into one bag for this week? Why? What stuff did you want to pack that you couldn’t? Any of you feel you packed too much stuff? Is there anything you packed that you now don’t think you need? What stuff weighs us down while we travel? (compare to life journey: stuff can get in the way of what’s important)  Do any of you think about the excess that we live in compared to the vast majority of people around the world? (Discuss) What are your thoughts/feelings about this?

– EXPLAIN: When Jesus called his disciples to follow Him, He told them to drop everything and follow Him. This would probably be really hard for each of us to do if He asked us to do this today. And, yet, think of how much easier it would be to travel if we traveled MUCH lighter!

While we may not be called to give up everything, Jesus does call us to follow Him and to give up things that are excessive that weigh us down and keep us from being able to journey on the path in His footsteps. (Stuff that gets in the way of experiencing God in our lives and from focusing on what and who is important in our lives.)

– ASK: What are some things in our lives that are excessive and distract us and weigh us down – keeping us from being able to follow in Jesus’s footsteps of loving/caring for others and distracts us from what is important in life?

– EXPLAIN: The U.S. makes up about 5% of the world’s population and yet uses up about 25% of the world’s resources. (DRAW DIAGRAM TO SHOW THIS.) When you think of other overdeveloped countries and how much they use, what does that leave the rest of the world? How does this make you feel?

In addition to using so much of the world’s resources, North Americans make a very large collective “carbon footprint” – Total set of greenhouse gases emitted. (The amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted due to the consumption of fossil fuels by a particular person, group.) How does this collective carbon footprint affect the rest of the world? (specific ways?)

Being good stewards of God’s earth is connected to being good stewards of God’s creatures (people) because when we hurt the earth, many of God’s people are affected. How? (When we use so much stuff and so many resources that we don’t need, others around world don’t have access to it… such as water, etc.  Many people who don’t have much money live close to landfills, which can be toxic in air or water, etc.)

– ASK: What are other ways that we – who have excess – might (even unintentionally) leave unhealthy footprints while here in Dubuque this week? What are specific ways we can make sure we tread lightly on this trip, are careful to treat this land and community as Holy Ground and not leave huge footprints wherever we walk this week? When we get home? (recycling, taking care of what we have, not wasting, throwing trash away, etc.)

STEWARDS OF GOD’S PEOPLE: (EQUALITY) (10 min)
– EXPLAIN: We can be good stewards of God’s creatures (and people) by caring for the earth. What other ways can we be good stewards of God’s people? (Sharing with those who don’t have as much, being intentional about learning how others live and trying to live our lives better so others can live better, helping at places like community garden, food pantry, shelter; being kind to others.)

We can also be good stewards of God’s people by treating others with kindness and in another way that we hear about in the passage we read and I preached on at Sunday’s worship.

Read: Galatians 3:23-29 (Have volunteers read and everyone else follow along.)
– ASK: What does it mean for there to no longer be Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female? (Explain background of inequality within society and the early church during time Galatians was written.)
– So what does this say about how to be good stewards of God’s people? (By treating others equally and – like Jesus – saying to the world that all are equal. Standing up for others who are not treated equally.)

– EXPLAIN: The footprints Jesus left show us how he continuously treated others as equals: he taught, loved, cared for and healed, was always standing on common ground with everyone else. Jesus stood on the same ground, sat in the same boat, walked on the same water. He approached others at eye level (not above them looking down as one higher than they were.) He humbled himself. Looked at others as equals. He didn’t stand over them, but stood with them and walked alongside them during their joys and sorrows and as they traveled on their journey of life.

This can be very difficult: to see others and treat them as equals when we often see and focus on the things about others that seem different or that we don’t really understand. So right now, I want us to do a few little activities.

Bond activity (5 min)

Tell youth to find someone who: (try to find a different person for each question)
– likes the same sports as you
– likes the same kind of music that you like
– watches at least one tv show that you watch
– was born in the same city that you were born
– likes the same subject in school that you like
– likes to read the same kind of book or magazine that you like

– Explain: (5 min) How many of you found someone in this room for each of the questions? All but one? All but two? We often like to hang out with the same people who look, act, and think like us or who are familiar to us. (People we know well.) And so we get nervous when new people are around. So it’s really difficult to reach out to new people or people who might seem like they are different than we are. Yet, this activity we just did showed that even though we don’t know many people in this room very well yet, we still have many similarities with others.

– ASK: But how did we get to know what other people liked and that we have some things in common? (Asking and talking to one another. Hearing their stories.) This is important. We don’t know about others’ stories unless we ask and unless we make the effort to find out and to listen to each others’ stories. As we read about in our Bible, Jesus does a really good job of building relationships with people and getting to know them.

STORY SHARING: (5 min)

Get into pairs with a person you don’t know very well. (Tell the other person about who is in your family (your parents or guardians, your siblings) and share one story about your family growing up. EX: a funny story or a story about where you grew up. Could be a story about how you and your family celebrate holidays. (Take a few minutes.)

SMALL GROUPS: (15 min)

– Take few minutes to check in with each other about today: What were your thoughts and feelings about working in the community garden today? (Did you learn anything? Why was this work important for us? For the people we worked with today? For the community?)
– How did you experience holy ground today? (How was God present today?)
– What were some of the highs and lows for today?

READ QUOTE: “We serve others most not by giving them things or by doing things for them, but by accompanying them on their way.” – Don Richter

– ASK: What does this mean? What does this mean for our group as we continue to be good stewards of God’s creation by practicing service?

– READ: Scripture from Romans 10:15: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

– EXPLAIN: Paul wrote this – quoting from the book of Isaiah (from Old Testament) – recognizing that the most faithful way to bring good news to others and share Christ’s love to others is by standing by them, walking alongside of them, sharing common ground with them – working with them.

DISCUSS:
– How might our footprints continue to show respect on this Holy Ground this week?
– How might our feet bring good news to the people we encounter on this trip? (The people from our host church, the people we encounter on our service projects, one another in this group?) (Examples: Help someone who needs help, make sure everyone is included, say encouraging words to others, etc.)

– EXPLAIN: Our feet are not the only feet that bring good news while we practice service on this trip. Often, when we practice service and bring good news to others, we receive good news from others, too (from those we are working alongside to serve, by those we encounter during our service work, by our friends (through love, generosity, kindness, etc.)

– ASK: How have we received good news this week so far from others? (Try to help the youth think about specific people and experiences like: people at community garden, people from our host church who helped us pack lunches, brought potluck, people who donated our food, woman who paid for our pizza night on Sat. Also try to help them think about each other or other leaders in this group: friendships, discussions we have, ways we’ve helped or included one another, etc.)

 

LARGE GROUP: (5 min)

As we listen to music (Be Thou My Vision) let this be our prayer. Silently trace your foot on construction paper, on one side write: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Rom. 10:15) On other side write one or two ways your footprints on this earth will bring good news (recycling, sharing love, treating others equally, etc.)

CLOSING PRAYER: (Pray Together)

Set our feet moving, O God,
Guide our feet as we walk with neighbors near and far,
Share common, holy ground that bids us shed our shoes,
Tiptoe through green pastures and stroll beside still waters,
Trudge up mountainsides with swollen, sweaty feet,
To preach peace and shout salvation, stampede for justice, stomp and clap when right prevails,
Run the good race even when it doesn’t stand with others in the need of prayer,
At daybreak and dusk traversing every threshold by dance or limp.
Set our feet moving, O God.
Teach us to follow in your footsteps as we behold those beautiful, bruised feet that bear our burdens.
Bless our stumblings and bring us safely to shore.
We pray in Jesus’ name and for his sake. – Don Richter

 

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DAY 4: 

(Worked at Dubuque Rescue Mission in the morning: worked in community garden, served a meal to Mission residents, helped organize clothes/shoes in the Mission Thrift Store.  Participated in activities with Circles Initiative/Bridges Out of Poverty program in the evening.)

Materials Needed: small group discussions, One Day lyrics, markers, closing prayer

LARGE GROUP CHECK IN AND RECAP:

– We have been talking all week about standing on what? (Holy Ground) And we have been saying that taking off our sandals like Moses means what? (being good stewards) We say we are called to be good stewards of both what? (Yesterday we talked about and experienced being stewards of God’s earth. Today we really experienced being good stewards of God’s creatures: taking care of and loving God’s people.) How many experienced Holy Ground today and tonight?

SMALL GROUP CHECK IN:

DISCUSS DUBUQUE RESCUE MISSION:
– What did you do at the Dubuque Rescue Mission this morning and what were your thoughts and feelings about your experiences there? (Both from your participation in activities and in what you learned about the mission.)
– How did you experience holy ground this morning at the Dubuque Rescue Mission?

DISCUSS CIRCLES (BRIDGES OUT OF POVERTY PROGRAM)
– What were your feelings and thoughts about the Circles program tonight?
– What were your reactions to and feelings about the group activity at Circles?
– What happened in the activity?
– How did that activity make you feel?
– How might that activity inform us in our interactions with people in our every day lives? (at church, school, in our neighborhoods, etc)
– How and when did we experience Holy Ground at Circles? (during dinner, when we interacted with each other or members of Circles, when we did the activities, when we heard other peoples’ stories?)

LARGE GROUP:

– Share what small groups discussed

STORY SHARING: (5 min)

Get into pairs with a person you don’t know very well. (Tell the other person about who is in your family (your parents or guardians, your siblings) and share one story about your family growing up. EX: a funny story or a story about where you grew up. Could be a story about how you and your family celebrate holidays, etc. (Take a few minutes.)

SONG REFLECTION: One Day (hand out lyrics and marker)

– Listen and think about today’s work and learning projects, experiencing holy ground, etc. (highlight words/phrases that stick out)
– Discuss

CLOSING PRAYER:

Lord, make me an instrument of thy 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 to self that we are born to eternal life. – Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

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DAY 5: 

(Did conservation and restoration projects at Swiss Valley Park and Nature Center; Toured Nature Center; Hiked at the park; went to family farm in the evening for bbq and hayrides)

Materials Needed: small group discussions, notecards, pens, paper bags, closing prayer

LARGE GROUP:

– Check in: How is everyone? How’s the week been?
– Explain what we will do (small group check ins, affirmations in small groups)

SMALL GROUP:

– How were our experiences today at Swiss Valley Park?
– What did we learn about today?
– What did we think of the two different projects? Why were these projects important and how did they connect with our theme of holy ground and being good stewards of God’s creation?
– How have we experienced holy ground today? (at Swiss Valley, at the YMCA, at the farm?)
– What are our highs and lows of this week?

SMALL GROUP AFFIRMATIONS: (20 min.)

– Ask one person to sit in the middle of the circle. Have everyone around the circle say an affirmation (one sentence about what they appreciate about the person in the circle from this week) (Example: Emily, I really appreciate how well you listen to others.)

– Each person should have a turn to be in the circle and everyone should hear an affirmation from everyone in the group

CLOSING PRAYER: Lord, make me an instrument of thy 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 to self that we are born to eternal life. – Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

 


 

 

*** CLICK HERE to see the closing worship service we did on our last day right before we left to go back home. ***

“All for One, and One for All” – Sermon on Galatians 3:23-29

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(Preached on Sunday during the Mission/Service and Learning trip of Edgewater Youth Coalition at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Dubuque, IA, our host church.)

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

It’s wonderful to be here this morning and this week. My youth, adult leaders, and I are very thankful for all you have done and are doing to help make this a wonderful mission and service and learning trip for our group.

While many of you know my face or have heard my name, you may not know what I do. I thought this morning, I’d share a little about myself and the group I am here with this week.

While I am a recently ordained pastor in the Chicago Presbytery, I serve as the pastor with youth, children, and households at three ELCA congregations and one American Baptist church in the neighborhood of Edgewater in the city of Chicago.

Some call me an ecumenical bricolage… Others call me crazy.

This week I joined Joe Morrow, the Youth Director at Edgewater Presbyterian Church in our neighborhood in bringing youth from all five of our congregations for a mission/service and learning trip. I hope you will get the chance to meet some of these wonderful youth today or sometime this week.

One of the things that began my passion to work with youth and children was my own desire as a kid to find a safe community of peers and adults where I found a sense of belonging and where I could be myself. This was mainly due to my own personal experiences of being bullied and excluded from the “in” crowd at school. In elementary and middle school, I was picked on by the popular kids for many reasons.  Sometimes it was because I didn’t live in a big house or my family didn’t own a new car. Other times it was because I was not very athletic or I did not wear a certain brand of clothes like the popular girls at my school.

But for whatever the reason: I was picked on because I was just a little different than the girls in the “in” crowd.

And in the midst of my own experiences of feeling like an outsider and being bullied, I witnessed many of my friends and classmates who were bullied and excluded because of their differences, as well: sometimes it was because they were new to the country, spoke a different language with their friends at school, lived in a different neighborhood than the cool kids, or because they couldn’t afford to wear new, trendy clothes and shoes.

*****

This issue of determining who is “in” or “out” – being included or excluded because of differences – was at the heart of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. 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 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 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?

Many of the Gentiles were accepted into this new Jesus-movement community. However, there was a large group of Jewish-Christians 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. Among many things, abiding by this law included observing the dietary laws and the Sabbath and being circumcised – a practice that was considered very repulsive in the Hellenistic culture.

Many Gentiles were receptive to such teachings – including the Gentile-Christians in the Galatian church that Paul was writing to in our passage from today.

However, I imagine that this was not an easy decision or process for these Galatian Gentiles… I cannot imagine it would have been easy for them to buy into the fact that they had to give up their own heritage, their customs, and their identity and try to conform in order to ensure that they got into this community.

And I imagine that many of these Gentile Christians felt that they had no other choice if they wanted to become a child of God and be included into the faith community. We see that even when some of these Gentiles were included in this new Christian community without observing the Jewish Law, several of the more conservative Jewish Christians excluded them from 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 conservative Jewish-Christians – including Peter – refused to eat with the Gentiles in Antioch… So I don’t think we can put too much blame on these Gentiles for trying to conform in order to be fully included.

*****

Doesn’t this sound sort of familiar to us today? Aren’t there many communities, groups, and even churches around us that exclude others who are different from the majority of those communities and groups?  Where too often those who are the “outsiders” are pressured to give up their identity and customs and conform to the majority in order to fit in and be included?

In the US, there is sort of an expected “American Dream” way of life – where your social status is determined by your worldly success, financial means, and material possessions.  Where your status is based on living in a particular type of home, owning a specific kind of car, and looking and talking in a particular kind of way.  And if you don’t, you are often deemed as the odd “outsiders.”

It will probably not take many of us here too long to think about who the individuals are around us who have been excluded and considered these outsiders or others.

They may be the kids at school or the people at work who just don’t fit into the “in crowd.” They may be people from not readily accepted groups based on age, ethnic background, or race. Those who speak a different native language, who grew up in a different neighborhood, whose family situation is not the same as ours, or who just haven’t had opportunities to receive a quality education. They may be the people we see walking into the Dubuque Rescue Mission to receive their daily free meal or the people we pass downtown who are sitting on the park bench shaking a cup and asking for change in order make enough to have a place to sleep for a night.

They may even be the new people who enter this service on Sunday morning for worship and who stand by themselves during fellowship hour. Or maybe even some us here today can identify with those Gentile Christians from the first century, trying to find a community in which we belong and are accepted – no matter who we are – and yet feeling the pressure of having to hide or give up parts of our true identity in order to be fully accepted and included.

We all love to be around our friends and people who look, act, and think like us. And yet, when we don’t reach out of our comfort zones – to others who may not believe the same things we do and who do not look, talk, and act like us – when we look at these individuals as less than ourselves or ignore and exclude them, we deny them the gift that is offered to them by God.  The gift that they – too – are children of God, as Paul put it, and we deny them full access into our faith community – where ALL in Christ are called to be one – no matter our differences.

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The good news is that Paul’s message to the Galatian church shows us that this is not the way God intended the world and the Church order to be. In response to the teachings of the several conservative Jewish-Christians that the Gentiles had to first convert to Judaism, be circumcised, and observe the Jewish Law, Paul explains in Galatians chapter 3 that it is not the Law that justifies, but rather, it is only the work done through Jesus Christ. He later explains that: “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 world, and has risen from the dead, all who have faith in Christ are no longer subject to this Law. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “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 and love our neighbor – and ALL who are in Christ.

You see, for Paul, ALL who are in Christ Jesus are children of God through faith – no matter who they are, no matter where they live, no matter how they dress, and no matter what their background. And ALL should be invited to and included – without any conditions – into this community through faith 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 gender, social and economic status, and ethnicity.

Every morning Jewish men would have prayed this prayer, and Paul – who before he was converted to the Jesus movement was a Jewish Pharisee – would have been very familiar with it as he, himself, 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, Christ has brought an end to these unjust societal and cultural divisions. And so now all who are “in Christ” are one. Differences no longer matter.  Whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, rich or poor, young or old, powerful or outcast, native or immigrant.  All are God’s children, all are equal, all are united as One.

*****

This message to the Galatian Church would have been good news to the Gentiles. But it is also good news for each one of us today. It reminds us that ALL in Christ are equally united as one body and as children of God – no matter our differences. And it calls each one of us to reach out in love to include and care for all of God’s children.

And to those of us who identify with those first century Galatian Gentiles – those of us who have been excluded and bullied for our differences, those of us who are longing to find a place of belonging, where we will be accepted for who we truly are: Galatians 3 speaks to us, as well. Paul’s message reminds us that we ARE God’s children – no matter what we look like, no matter where we live, and no matter where we come from. And it reminds us that we can and SHOULD hold onto our heritage, to our customs, and to our true identities: which only make us unique and beautiful individuals with a lot to give and share with the church and with the world.

This week, our group will be talking about holy ground: that we are always standing on holy ground – in God’s presence – and that we are called to be good stewards of God’s creation, taking care of God’s earth as well as all of God’s creatures and all of God’s children.

Since our youth are coming from five different churches, who are in different grades, go to different schools, many who come from different countries, and some who live in different neighborhoods, we will be talking a lot about how we can be good stewards of God’s creation by recognizing the similarities we all have in our differences and by affirming all of our equality as children of God in Christ.

So I’d like to leave you all this morning with a poem called “Human Family” by Maya Angelou, which speaks to my youth and to all of us here this morning as we reflect this week on what it means to be one in Christ.  A poem that if Paul were writing to the Galatians today, I can’t help but think he might include it in his letter.

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.

The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.

I’ve sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I’ve seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I’ve not seen any two
who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.

We love and lose in China,
we weep on England’s moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

WE are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.

“The Answer My Friend, Is Blowing in the Wind” – A Sermon on the Pentecost

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[Sermon based on Pentecost readings: Numbers 11:24-30Acts 2:1-21, and John 7:37-39]

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like having to wait and anticipate what is to come next. Having to wait all summer before getting to see whom Alicia Florick’s next romance is with on the tv show the Good Wife. Having to wait at the dentist’s office before hearing how many cavities the dentist found. Having to wait for results on a school project or exam or for a phone call with the outcome of a job interview.

Having to wait for that scary, unknowable future.

But that is what the disciples of Jesus were called to do at Jesus’ ascension, which we celebrated last week.

They were called to wait.

To wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father to be fulfilled. To wait to be baptized by the Holy Spirit, whatever that means.

To wait.

So that they might be empowered to be witnesses to the ends of the earth when they are filled with this mysterious Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

Now this must have been a difficult task for these first century disciples of Jesus. As we all know, the Ascension is not the first time Jesus just suddenly up and disappears, leaving them feeling possibly scared, abandoned, and powerless.

So it’s no wonder that after Jesus ascends into heaven, the disciples immediately return to Jerusalem and head to the upper room – the same place where they, not long ago, hid behind closed doors after Jesus’ death and resurrection out of fear and anticipation of what was to come.

And it is no wonder that they once again gather all together in that upper room – the place that seems to provide them with some sense of comfort when everything else in their lives seems so uncertain: when they are full of worry and concern over what this Holy Spirit is, what it means to be baptized by it, and what exactly that means for their futures. When they are overwhelmed with grief over the loss of their rabbi yet once again and are concerned about how in the world they are to live as the people of God and be witnesses of Jesus to the ends of the earth, when Jesus – their dear friend and teacher – is now no longer with them to guide them and lead them along the way.

I am sure many of us here can relate to these first century disciples. When our futures seem so unsure, when we cannot sense Jesus’ presence among us, when we just have no clue what God is calling of us or how our lives and relationships might change if we were to respond to that calling, when we are told by others that we are inadequate… and we believe them, when we feel voiceless.  Or when we – ourselves – or our loved ones are so overcome with pain and suffering, that we wonder if Jesus has just up and abandoned us, leaving us feeling alone and powerless.

In these times, don’t we – like the disciples 2000 years ago – tend to rush to the places and people that seem comfortable to us and shut the doors to keep anything else out that might shake us up a bit: the unknowns, the potential dangers and criticisms, the sufferings and injustice around us that are too painful or controversial that we would rather ignore and avoid them than acknowledge them?

But for these first century disciples, it is in this moment when they begin to feel comfortable again – as they are gathered close together behind those closed doors in the upper room – when the Holy Spirit shows up.  And she doesn’t just show up in the way she sometimes appears to her beloved ones: in her quiet and gentle manner – like a calm summer breeze blowing through the trees and slowly touching and transforming those in her path.

No. Instead, on this day of Pentecost, she comes unexpectedly, loudly and boldly sweeping through the house like a sudden cold Chicago blizzard wind roaring through the tunnels between the high-rise buildings along the lake, knocking her beloved ones off their feet, and pulling them out of their comfort zones.

And, there in that upper room, she brings about divided tongues and fire. And she pours herself out onto all who are present: filling them, empowering them, and lighting their hearts on fire. And these uneducated, disciples from the back-skirts of Galilee begin to speak in languages they have never spoken before – about the deeds and the power of God.

And the noise is so loud and the wind and fire are so powerful, that the pilgrims from many nations wandering about in the Jerusalem streets outside the closed doors to the upper room, hear and understand in their own native tongues what these uneducated Galileans are saying. And they are both amazed and perplexed.

Some overwhelmed with God’s power. And others critical and accusatory.

And then Peter does something unexpected. Peter – the same one who had lacked confidence when Jesus called him to walk on water, the same one who cowardly denied Jesus three times before his crucifixion on the cross – now boldly stands up, and by the power of the Holy Spirit he raises his voice, and begins speaking the words of the prophet Joel, proclaiming that in the last days, the Spirit will be poured out onto ALL of God’s people. Both male and female. Young and old. Slave and free. That this Spirit will empower and equip ALL of the people of God to be prophets – no matter who they are, where they are from, what language they speak, no matter what their circumstances.

As Nadia Bolz-Weber describes it in her sermon at the 2012 Festival of Homiletics: this Pentecost – this event where the good news was first proclaimed by only a few fearful simple-folk from Galilee in the upper room in Jerusalem and then soon-thereafter quickly spread like wildfire – was a holy “Pente-chaos.”

Now, as someone who grew up Presbyterian – in a denomination that often tends to emphasize its order and structure, and doesn’t really respond well to surprises – this kind of “Pente-chaos” and this call on God’s people we see here in our Acts passage that some refer to as the “prophethood of all believers” – leaves me a bit terrified and makes me feel a little uneasy and uncomfortable.

And yet, that is exactly what this “Pente-chaos” is about.

It is about sweeping in when we are too comfortable and moving us out of those places we cling to when we fear the unknowns and try to avoid the pain and injustice around us.  It is about empowering us to do the things that so many others – and even sometimes our own systems – have told us we cannot do because of our gender, age, or economic situation, our education status, color of skin, or sexual orientation. It is about equipping ALL of us to be prophets by speaking truth, spreading love, and fighting for justice and equality for all of God’s children.

It is about calling us to continue what Jesus set out to do, which – after his own baptism by the Holy Spirit at the beginning of his ministry – he declares: that the Spirit of the Lord had anointed him to bring good news to the poor, give sight to the blind, proclaim release to the captives, and let the oppressed go free.

The Pentecost is about sending Jesus’ disciples out into the all the world to be witnesses to the ends of the earth – now that Jesus is no longer physically on this earth to do so, himself.

As Ngbarezere, one of our Edgewater Congregations Together youth said in his sermon at the youth-led Ascension Day Service last year:  “Jesus said before he ascended: ‘And you will be my witnesses…’ How are we witnesses? With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can be Jesus’ witnesses to all people – to follow in Jesus’ footsteps of loving the oppressed and standing up for justice and equality.”

And as Katie, one of Ebenezer Lutheran’s youth said in her sermon at the Ascension Day service: “No, we’ll probably never physically see Jesus. But we can see the people that represent Jesus. The church community is the first thing that comes into my mind. We all represent Jesus in the good things we do. I mean, we’re not the perfect servants of God. Nobody is perfect. But we see people do good things for other people all the time… As a church community, we help, we serve God and others, too. We pray. We forgive and also ask to be forgivenThat’s just the little part of God inside of us that tells us to do good.  So WE are the Jesus of the Earth.”

THIS, my friends, is the heart of the Pentecost. To be the “Jesus of the Earth” – as Katie puts it.  To be the hands and feet of Christ in the world.

In the Ascension, Jesus declared that though he will no longer be physically on this earth to preach the good news himself, his work will continue… in and through each one of us. And the Pentecost is where Jesus passes on this important work of God to all of us. In the Pentecost, we can continue to do this work through the power we receive in the Holy Spirit – no matter how fearful and inadequate we may feel.

Jesus did not just leave the early disciples alone, abandoned, and powerless when he ascended into heaven… And he didn’t just leave us alongside those first century disciples, alone and powerless, either. He left all of his disciples with empowerment through the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit – our Comforter who sometimes makes our lives uncomfortable – so that we, too, can be witnesses of God’s love to the ends of the earth.

I’d like to leave you today with the words of Teresa of Avila:

Christ has no body but yours,


No hands, no feet on earth but yours,


Yours are the eyes with which he looks


Compassion on this world,


Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,


Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.


Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,


Yours are the eyes, you are his body.


Christ has no body now but yours,


No hands, no feet on earth but yours,


Yours are the eyes with which he looks
 compassion on this world.


Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

 

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)

“Servant of All” – A Youth Group Lesson in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

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*Feel free to use any or all of this lesson for youth group, confirmation, Sunday School, or any other group.

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OPENING DISCUSSION:

ASK IN LARGE GROUP:

– What messages do we get in today’s society, at school, on tv, in magazines, etc. about who is the greatest in society? (Examples: most powerful, wealthy, good job, people who look a certain way, people who drive a certain type of car or live in a certain type of home, highly educated or best education, etc.)

*Have one youth write down what other youth say in first column on a white board.

– Are these similar messages we get in church or from our Bible about who is greatest?  What messages do we get in church, in our Bible, and from God about who is the greatest?

*Have someone write down what other youth say in second column on a white board.

EXPLORING SCRIPTURE:

BREAK INTO SMALL GROUPS:

Read: Mark 9:33-37

Discuss:

– Who is the greatest in this passage?  How does this passage differ from our societal messages? (Talk about how children were some of the last and least in society and were expected to be quiet. In understanding this first century context, what message is Jesus trying to convey in verses 36-37?)

– What does it mean to be a “last of all and servant of all” in verse 35?

– Look up the following passages and come up with a list or description of what being a servant or “servant of all” means in Scripture and what this means for us today.

Mark 10:45; Philippians 2:1-8; Isaiah 42:1, 4; Micah 6:8; Matthew 25:34-40

SHARE IN LARGE GROUP:

Share in large group what each group discussed: what do these Scripture texts say about being a servant or a “servant of all?” (Have someone write these out on the white board.)

APPLYING OUR CONTEXT TODAY:

DISCUSS IN LARGE GROUP:

– Does anyone know what holiday we celebrate(d) on Monday? (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)

– Can anyone tell me why we celebrate MLK day?  Who was he and what did he do?

– Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a famous speech.  What was it called?  (I Have A Dream.)  We are going to watch a video that includes an excerpt from his “I Have A Dream” speech.

SHOW VIDEO:

Discuss Video:

– What does MLK say about being a servant or a “servant of all?”  (Who can be a servant?)

– How was Martin Luther King, Jr. following his call to service?

– As we see in the Scripture passages we read and in the video, we are all called and commanded to be servants.  So what does this mean for us today?

RESPONDING: 

DISCUSS IN LARGE GROUP:

– MLK had a dream that one day all people in the United States would be treated equally.  He helped move this nation forward in making his dream come true.  However, are racism and inequality completely gone today?  How so?  (What are examples in your schools, our city, our country, or in the world where racism still occurs or where people are not being treated equally?)

– Let’s take this time to write out our own dreams: both for world and for our own lives.  (Provide a large piece of butcher paper and markers.  On the top of the butcher paper, write: MY DREAM FOR THE WORLD, and in the middle of the butcher paper, write: MY DREAM FOR MY LIFE.  Give youth 3-5 minutes to write their responses under each of the statements.

REFLECTING: 

EXPLAIN: We are going to watch another video based on the popular song called “Whatcha Say.”  The lyrics were rewritten  by a group of youth as they reflected on Martin Luther King, Jr.  As we watch the video, look over the lyrics sheet I will hand out.  Highlight any of the phrases that stick out to you as we continue to think about being a “servant of all.”

*Hand out lyrics sheet and markers.

“MLK WHATCHA SAY” LYRICS SHEET:

WHATCHA SAY MLK?

This Dr. King, we have come so far

We have worked so hard

But we still hold the scars

We are living out his dream in this once racist world

Well we couldn’t walk the streets

Without the stones being hurled

But we can’t stand and talk

Being judged by how we look

But you never know the story by the cover of this book

Dr. King gave us the rubric

Now we need to write the sequel

That the story never stops

Until we are all created equal

CHORUS

In this world we keep on livin’

And the people keep on givin’

But I didn’t know what to do

So get up and take a stand, now come on and take my hand

Because this change begins with you

Tell me now: Whatcha say?

That you only meant well?

Well of course you did

Whatcha say?
That is all for the best

Let’s flip the coin

A new perspective

Different angle, fade to white

Martin Luther King has spoken to me

Even though my skin is light

Brotherhood is not a term

That should separate and divide us

So lets all huddle up

Cause it’s meant to join, unite us

The strive for our equality

Has trials and tribulations

But the cause is worth the fight

It’s for one united nation

Under God, indivisible, for liberty and justice

Come join our peaceful army,

It’ll work, I hope you trust us

CHORUS

Tell me, tell me whatcha say?

You look but you don’t see me; Can’t see what’s underneath me

Tell me, tell me whatcha say?

You are more than just a phase; Now stand up, it’s time for a change

Can’t we keep the love we’re creating; Stop discriminating

Tell me, tell me whatcha say?

When love is in our life; We can make things alright

CHORUS

SHOW VIDEO:

 

Discuss Video:

– What are some phrases from the song that stuck out to you?  Why?

Respond to Video:

– (Hand out pieces of paper to the youth that state: WHATCHA SAY? in large, bold letters at the top of the page as seen in the video.  Give youth a few minutes to write their “dream” or specific ways they can “stand up” like MLK and help make this a better world.  Examples: “hug someone who needs a hug,” “volunteer at a food pantry,” “stand up for someone who is being bullied,” “meet someone new,” “stop saying things that are racist, sexist, agist,” etc.  Tell the kids to tape them up throughout the church and/or at home.)

CLOSING PRAYER:

(Print out the following prayer on little strips of paper and have everyone pray this prayer together.)

Good and caring God, you give us all that we have. Spirit of Compassion, help us to share what we have with those who are less fortunate. Help us also to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others who have gone before us to work to end poverty and to promote justice in our world by speaking up for those in need in our community, our nation, and our world. We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.