Tag Archives: peacemaking

“Now Is Our Opportunity To Testify” – Sermon on Luke 21:5-19

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“When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.”

Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” – Luke 21:5-19


In our passage in Luke this morning, the disciples are adorning all the beautiful stones of the Temple – the place that was so important and central to their community and their faith. And I can just imagine how they must have felt as Jesus told them that all of those stones are going to come crashing down. That their beloved Temple would soon be destroyed.

I think I can imagine how they must have felt because I think so many of us feel this way right now.

I am going to be completely honest. This week has been incredibly difficult. I can’t remember the last time I have cried as hard as I did on Tuesday night while I was watching the election. And I think the last time I woke up feeling like I was in a living nightmare like I felt on Wednesday morning was my sophomore year of college on Sept. 11th – as I watched the twin towers collapsing in New York on tv.

Now, the reason I was so distraught this week was not because a particular political party or my politician of choice was not chosen. But I have been so upset because of the incredible hate that has been spouted out by the politician that was elected and by several of his supporters – the kind of hate that is a direct attack on the personhood of so many of us and our neighbors and is incredibly dangerous.

And I know this week, I have not been the only person overcome with pain and fear of what this might mean.

The past few days I’ve heard the many hurts and fears voiced by family members, friends, neighbors, parishioners, parents, children, and youth.

On Wednesday night during youth group, as we gathered for prayer, anointing, and communion, several of our youth expressed that they were extremely worried about what this meant for the people they cared about or for themselves, as a youth of color or as a refugee, as a member of the Latinx or LGBTQIA communities, as a young woman or a youth with special needs, as a victim of sexual assault or as a youth whose family is economically disadvantaged.

“Will my family get deported?” “Will he take away my right to same sex marriage?” “What will happen to my food stamps?” – our youth asked.

“I don’t understand how anyone could ever vote for someone who treats women that way,” one of our young women said, crying. “Do they think that’s okay to treat us like that?”

“I don’t think he should be president,” an autistic youth stated. “He’s racist and mean to lots of people. I think he is just a big baby.”

“I’m worried about the safety of one of my Muslim friends,” another youth explained. “Her mom even asked her not to wear her hijab in public because she fears for her daughter.”

“I feel accepted here in this community,” one black male youth expressed. “But seeing how many people – even Christians – voted this way makes me scared that I will not be as accepted and safe in other places outside of Chicago.”

The pain and fears are deep and real for so many right now.

But too often – in times like these – our tendency is to deny or quickly skip over those fears and that pain. We can’t bear the reality, and it feels too painful to face our feelings or to see those whom we care about suffer. So we try to fix it. We tell ourselves and others to just “look on the bright side.”  “God is in control.”  “Everything will be okay.”

But the hard reality, as we see in our Gospel text in Luke this morning, is we are not guaranteed that everything in our world is going to be okay. At least, not immediately with the snap of our fingers.

Just as we see in Luke, there are going to be times of great trials and sufferings. There are going to be (and there currently are) unjust systems in our world and in our nation that divide and oppress.

“So stop adorning the beautiful stones of the walls of the Temple,” Jesus tells his disciples in Luke. “Stop focusing on other things so as to avoid the reality of what is to come and what already is. Soon, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another. All stones of the Temple will be thrown down. There will be destruction and violence. You will be persecuted in my name for proclaiming my good news, even by some of your own friends and family members. So stop focusing on other things. Instead, be alert. Beware that you are not led astray by others who falsely speak of doing works in my name.”

*****

These are hard words.

Stop focusing on other things. Beware of those who proclaim hate in the name of Christianity. Stay woke.

Face and name the reality of the suffering and injustice around you. Because it is there. It is real.

I know this is not what we want hear. But it is the harsh truth, and if we don’t face and claim it, we will have harsh consequences.

Because if we continue to avoid the suffering and the fears that our neighbors or that we – ourselves – are facing, we will loose sight of the real unjust and oppressive systems that are causing such suffering and oppression. And if we loose sight of these unjust systems, there will be no room for us to move beyond our fears and suffering so that we can begin to move toward hope. We will only be left with a false sense of optimism, which will keep us from seeing the opportunities we do have to move toward reconciliation, justice, and peace.

Because we cannot begin the path to reconciliation without tearing down the walls that divide and the systems that oppress.  And we cannot tear down these walls until we first recognize and confess that those walls and systems actually do exist.

Likewise: we cannot start to move beyond our fears and anger nor heal from our pain and suffering without first recognizing these feelings exist and then doing the important grief work so that we might begin to move THROUGH these feelings.

****

Now I know this is heavy. But please bear with me. Because there is good news.

Because as harsh as this all sounds, our reality does not have to end here, and Jesus calls us to not let it end here.

You see, in our text in Luke, Jesus does not just leave his disciples alone in that place of suffering and despair as he opens their eyes to the reality of what was to come and of the systems of injustice that were already present.

“Stay woke,” he urges them. “Because now is your opportunity to testify.”

You see, we can find hope in the promises that we hear in Malachi and 2 Thessalonians this morning that “there is a day coming when the evil will stumble… and the complacent and the lovers of the status quo will one day be revealed” (as Pastor Rachel Hackenberg paraphrases.)

We can find hope in the Kingdom of God that Jesus began to reign in 2000 years ago – a kingdom where the worldly throwns of injustice will be overturned.

But this Kingdom of God is not something we just sit around waiting for. And our hope in it is not passive. Rather it is active. And it involves us. Yes, God is creating new heavens and a new earth, but we are being called to join God in this creation process. And so even when the stones of the Temple walls come tumbling down before our very eyes, through us God is making all things new.

And so it is in times such as these, when we have this opportunity to testify.

You see, to testify is to love as Jesus loves. To speak as Jesus speaks. To make peace in this world as Jesus – the Prince of Peace – makes.

To testify is to proclaim the good news that Jesus proclaims. The good news, which can be summed up at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Luke, where he stands before the crowds, unrolls a scroll and begins to quote from the book of Isaiah: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ (And this year of the Lord’s favor in which he was to proclaim was the year of Jubilee – the year that the Jews had been waiting for – which was the year when land would be returned to its original owners, all Hebrew slaves would be set free, and all debts would be remitted. It was the ordered way of breaking down dividing walls of injustice and making peace).

Now, Jesus says, is our opportunity to testify this good news.

“Now is our opportunity to speak the gospel to the brokenhearted,” as Christian blogger Jill Duffield puts it. “Now is our opportunity to speak the truth in love. Now is our opportunity to let the world know we are Christ’s disciples by our love for one another in a very unloving and too often unlovely world. Now is our opportunity to testify to the power of Jesus Christ to reconcile and forgive, to transform and redeem.”

“Consider all the tumult, the war, the earthquakes, the suffering and the cruelty,” Jill continues. “Does not God have a Word to say in the midst of it? Have we not been given a purpose to fulfill in the face of it? Are we not to be a light to the world? Didn’t Jesus ask, “Do you love me?” [And his disciples answered:]”Yes, Lord, you know that we love you.” [Didn’t Jesus then say to them – and to us]: “Tend my sheep.” Now is our opportunity to testify.”

****

You see, to testify means that in times such as these, we create holy spaces for one another – like our youth group did on Wednesday night – where we are free to lament and share and hold one another in our fears, anger, and pain. Because these feelings are real. And we have a God who is real. A God who meets us where we are. A God who came in the flesh so that he might know our sufferings and walk alongside us in the midst of them. A God who – as poet Paul Claudel said – “did not come to take away our suffering. [But who] came to fill it with his presence.”

Now is our opportunity to testify.

To testify means that we will walk to the grocery store or sit on the bus with our black and brown, Latinx, LGBTQIA, Muslim, Jewish, refugee, and diversely abled siblings when they are scared for their safety. To testify means we will listen to one another’s stories, sit with each other in our sufferings, welcome those who are hurting into our homes and church, march with one another in the streets, and join in on this fight for justice, working harder and stronger than ever before.

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

To testify means we will believe and proclaim the truth that both we and all our neighbors are beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of God.

While many of us are still feeling overwhelmed with fear, anger, and pain right now, these feelings don’t have to have control over us.  Because we can also hold onto hope.

 Because love can and will trump hate.

****

As I read and heard the kinds of fears and pain many of those I care so deeply for were feeling this week, I said to them what I would like to say to you this morning:

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

My heart aches with you. I stand with you.

You are not alone.

May those who need to hear these words today hear them, and may we all share these words with our hurting neighbors.

In times like these, we must come alongside one another. Because we need each other. We are BETTER together.

Amen.

An Advent Call Story (at Bold Cafe: Women of the ELCA)

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Today I’m blogging “An Advent Call Story” over at Bold Cafe (Women of the ELCA).  Here is a part of what I wrote:

As I was getting ready for Advent this year, I realized that our Christmas songs, TV shows, and movies emphasize the importance of going home for the holidays. As I realized this, I thought about the people who cannot relate to this “holiday homecoming.” I could not help but think about those who lack a safe place they can call home.

I know this is not one of our Advent texts, but as we approached Advent, I was reminded of Moses’ call story in Exodus 3:1-12.

For many years, there had been a famine in the land of Canaan, and as a result, the Israelites left their homes in great numbers and traveled to Egypt to make a better life. However, Pharaoh disliked the growing numbers of Israelites who were taking refuge in his land. He did not want them to make Egypt their new home. So Pharaoh took advantage of the situation and turned these refugees into slaves. For centuries, the Hebrew refugees were forced into terrible working conditions and became victims of racism and violence. In their enslavement, they longed for release from their captivity and suffering and cried out to God.

And this is where Exodus 3 comes in.

– Read the rest at: Bold Cafe (Women of the ELCA)

“Peace-making be with you”: A Radical Call for Resurrection-Living

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{This post is my contribution to the monthly Spirit of the Poor syncroblog. The conversation is hosted by Luke Harms this month with the theme “Resist.”  Join the conversation.}

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Christ is risen! Alleluia!

We shouted these joyful proclamations on Easter Sunday. The One we had been following through the wilderness for 40 days and watched as he was arrested, wrongly accused, crucified on the cross, and buried is now alive. His tomb is empty and he has been raised from the dead.

Christ is risen indeed!

And on Easter Sunday we celebrated as we sang the “Alleluias” that had been buried over Lent. The black veil over Jesus’ cross has been lifted. The sanctuary is now decorated in white and gold. And the cross has been covered with bright and colorful flowers.

We finally can take on the luxuries we had fasted from over Lent. Everything seems to be back to normal… Or, for many, everything seems to be even better than before… knowing that Jesus is alive. That Christ could not be conquered by death.

Christ is risen! All is joyful and full of celebration.  Alleluia!

But wait a minute.

Not so fast!

This week, our Lectionary does not take us to a party with streamers, chocolate bunnies, and Easter egg hunts. While we do come to a gathering, it is not one that is filled with celebration.

Earlier that morning, Mary Magdalene is visited by the resurrected Jesus and goes to the disciples to tell them of this great news. But instead of rejoicing, they hide behind closed and locked doors… out of fear.

Out of fear that the Jewish leaders who attempted to silence Jesus by putting him to death would now come after them. And maybe out of fear of Jesus, himself. Now that he is alive, what would he think of his friends who denied him three times, fled after his arrest, and left him to fend for himself in his most excruciating moments on the cross?

Christ is risen? Christ is risen… indeed?

Last week, I wrote about my experience watching the Jesus I knew growing up – who had loved and advocated for me and had called me into ministry at a young age – get spit on, beaten down, put on trial, and eventually crucified as I kept hearing “You Can’ts” because I am a woman. And though these loud voices in my first marriage and campus ministry continuously tried to silence and crucify this Jesus, death did not have the final say. The tomb was indeed empty, and the Jesus I knew and loved was not, in fact, silenced.

And yet, though I could at times shout out “Alleluias” of great joy, there were still times I – like Jesus’ closest disciples – decided to run and hide behind closed doors.

Because this news that Christ is risen may be good news, but it does not come without great responsibility…

Because this news that Christ is risen may be good news for many, but it is not good news for all.

When I saw the Jesus who loved me for who I truly am hanging from the cross, I panicked, thinking I’d never see him again. But when he finally appeared to me at the empty tomb, calling me to follow him into this crazy ministry of radical love that loudly advocates for the “least of these,” I wasn’t so sure I wanted to accept this call, after all. Instead, I wanted to resist it.  I wanted to run and hide out of fear. Out of fear of those who would wish to silence me – were I to follow this resurrected Jesus. Out of fear of what so many of my friends, colleagues, and in-laws would say. Out of fear of how this “speaking out” and “standing up for myself and others” would add more tension to what was already taxing in my friendships and marriage.

Couldn’t I just privately accept the love and peace of this radical Jesus for myself and hold onto it for my own personal healing? Couldn’t I just quietly share the good news of this radical Jesus with only the people who I know would accept him?

But if we know this radical Jesus in the first place, we also know the answer.

We know that when we look into the eyes of the resurrected Jesus and touch the wounds of the crucified Christ, we will understand that his death and resurrection were for a far greater and more powerful purpose than just ourselves. And when we place our fingers on the holes in his wrists and feel with our hands the deep cut on his side, we will not be able to do anything other than loudly confess that Jesus is indeed, “My Lord, and My God!”

…So we run.

But even in our times of fear and questioning – when we resist our call to proclaim this radical Gospel of Jesus; when we choose to deny, flee, and hide – Jesus will keep returning to us over and over and over again. Until we are ready to open our eyes to see him, reach out our hands to touch him, and accept the “peace” he offers to us that comes with a commission.

Because when we receive the words: “Peace be with you,” we must remember Jesus’ words that come after it: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

This resurrected life we are called to live – this peace-giving and peace-making ministry we are sent out into the world to do – is going to lead us to places, people, and situations we will fear and question. When we really follow this radical Jesus of the cross who loudly and boldly advocated for the “last and the least,” we are going to run into some pushback. We are going to get ourselves into trouble. We are going to bump into people who will try to spit on, ridicule, beat, and silence us.

But the good news is that we are not alone. Jesus is with us. He has breathed onto us the Holy Spirit, our loving Advocate, who will continuously comfort and guide us along the way. And he has called us to join together as one body to share the joys and the burdens that come with receiving and passing on this peace of Christ.

Easter is not over after we sing “Alleluias” on Easter Sunday. It did not end when Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb. And it did not end when Jesus appeared to the disciples who were hiding behind closed doors.

It continues with each one of us as we choose to live this resurrected life by accepting and boldly passing on the peace that comes in and through this radical Jesus who was resurrected from the dead.

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

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