Posts Tagged ‘sermon’

This Is Not a Metaphor – Sermon from Sunday, November 13, 2016

// November 14th, 2016 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Readings: Isaiah 65.17-25; Luke 21.5-19

Before I begin, I want to clarify some labels that I will employ throughout. When I say “we” or “us,” I am primarily referring to those who regularly attend this church. However, because I know these people well, I know that most, perhaps all, voted for her, so it is not at all unfair to think that when I say “we” or “us,” I am referring to those who voted for her. Part of my task today is to provide some comfort to those who are heartbroken, including myself. I have definitely taken a side in this and I want to be honest about that. So, when I say “they” or “them,” I’m referring to those who voted for him. I want to assure anyone who voted for him that this is a sacred space where people speak as honestly as they can and give one another all the grace they can. Our aspiration is to always create a space for open dialog, so that we can come to mutual understanding and respect. You might have to undergo some extreme vetting before communion, but it’s nothing personal.

This is not the sermon I intended to give. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate to procrastinate, so I looked at today’s lectionary passages a couple of weeks ago. Luke tells us of the signs of the impending apocalypse and tells us what we will suffer along the way. Isaiah speaks to the Israelites returning from Babylonian exile to discover that others occupy the houses that they built, that someone else eats from the garden of their labors. I thought that I would be speaking from a place of victory. I thought I would describe, as honestly as I could, the experience of apocalypse and exile of the other side, the losers – in his parlance – so that we might be compassionate to our neighbors, the ones who would certainly find themselves disappointed, if not heartbroken and fearful. And yet…

The funny thing about an apocalypse is that we know neither the day nor the hour when it will strike. We don’t know if we will be the builders and gardeners one day and the exiles the next. It’s a shocking thing to wake up and realize that we are the aliens in this world. Now, it looks like the promise of hope that Isaiah offers, that we knew – we just knew – we were taking one step closer to, is actually still in the uncountable years ahead.

But the reason we rehearse this narrative of birth, death and rebirth, of creation and destruction and creation again, Christmas and Good Friday and Easter and Advent, the reason we tell this story over and over again is that, at some point, this is not a metaphor. I always expected the calamity would come with age and that, lying on my death bed, I would have the comfort and courage of knowing the story. I could confidently drift into oblivion without fear or regret. But calamity came early – for us. For them, calamity has been coming for a while. Oblivion has been right on the horizon for a long time.

I have attempted in the past few weeks and even since the election to engage my family, who decided to support him. They are they. The engagement has been on Facebook and many have cautioned me that this is not a place for dialog. However, this is the place we most often meet and communicate. I submit that we must learn to use it well, to have meaningful conversations over the cyber. For years, my family and I have simply ignored one another. They pretended not to see the den of iniquity I was living in, the path of sin I was taking us down. I scrolled right past the videos of the screeching blonde woman and the casual racism. We agreed to disagree. But that doesn’t produce understanding; it only thickens the walls of our bubbles. I decided to engage, mostly by asking questions, but also, as gently as I can, refusing to let untruths go unchallenged. We can’t simply abandon the possibility of holding facts in common. Through some difficult conversations and some additional reading, this is what I learned of their apocalypse.

First, there is a very real economic calamity in the rural United States. For much of the 20th century, ironically due to the progressive politics of organized labor, we had a thriving working class. You could get a job at the local factory, make a good wage, buy a house, and raise a family. My cousin, who is my mom’s age, by the time he finished his blue collar career, made good money, had a pension, and, between shift work and accrued vacation time, only worked about 100 days out of the year. His job mostly consisted of watching dials that only moved if there was a problem. So he spent most of his time at work peddling side businesses, whatever home sales product was in fashion. On the weekends, he went to the dump, picked out serviceable items for repair and sold them. With all of this, he had a house and a few acres. He had every toy he could imagine. My redneck cousin was the first person I knew to have HDTV and a satellite dish with movies on demand. It was a good life.

But over the last 30 years, that has ceased to be the case for communities like his. As we know, those blue collar jobs have moved overseas. Regardless of what anyone says, they are probably not coming back. You just can’t compete with those wages and the demands of investors for ever greater profits require CEOs to make the move or lose their jobs, golden parachutes notwithstanding. In many places, a town has one factory. When it closes, the town shuts down. That is the reality for many of his voters.

There is also, if we’re being honest, racial anxiety. White people have had a pretty good run. But by 2050, the United States will be majority non-white. White people, for the first time are having to confront the possibility that their success is not entirely due to their own labor. I heard one person say it this way: as a white person, you used to have to have a plan to fail; now you have to have a plan to succeed. There is now competition for the jobs they took for granted. And all these people complaining all the time, upset about things that happened 150 years ago. They are made to feel guilty for things they didn’t even do. They are tired of the accusations, the snide mocking of the Hollywood elite and the academics. Of course, few people think they are racists because racists are bad people – and they are not bad people. They’re right; they are not bad people. I know my family to be kind and generous, always willing to help a person in need. However, there seem to be limits to their kindness and generosity. As with all of us, it is usually reserved for the people nearest us. It can even cross racial lines because you and the black people in your little town have an understanding. They have the chance to be one of the good ones, as long as they are polite and respectful. It’s the others, the ones on TV making trouble in Baltimore and Ferguson and Dallas, Texas, that are the problem. They are the sign of things to come. We can’t make light of this anxiety. It is a real sense of loss that we gain nothing by mocking.

Finally, there is a spiritual anxiety shaped by a very particular theology. Yes, it is fundamentalist and it is evangelical, but it is more than that. It is, in may ways, the antithesis of the way that we talk about God at Church in the Cliff. It buys completely into the hierarchy. It sees God as an actor in history, sitting on the throne of judgment. They are always on the lookout for the apocalypse and they know that our nation’s sin will trigger it. It seems that their faith has centered on two things: abortion and gay rights. They truly fear that, if our nation continues on its path of tolerance for those things, God’s judgment will be rendered. Worse, if they don’t combat this slide at every turn, their souls and the souls of their loved ones are in jeopardy. Eternal life is at stake here. Again, we can disagree, but we can’t mock their fear. A failure to understand these things, to speak meaningfully to these things is what gave us him.

This man came along and took God’s name in vain – truly – and said, “I am the One.” He spoke of culture wars and minority insurrections and they were terrified. He told them that the time was near, the time that their temple would be torn down, and they followed after him. He told them he could bring manufacturing back. He told them their economic anxiety was the fault of a host of others – non-white others, non-Christian others. He told them he would give them judges that would stop our slide into immorality and spare us from God’s judgment, earthly judges to keep the ultimate judge at bay. Because we had no answer to these claims, because we wrote their concerns off as silly or perverse, who could they follow but him?

Luke’s Jesus tell us in the NRSV not to be terrified. However, it’s one of those words that a translator could take in a lot of directions. It suggests being startled, like when Lisa doesn’t hear me come into the kitchen and suddenly turns around to find me there. So we could say, “Don’t be surprised.” Don’t be surprised when these things happen. This is reinforced by the claims that all of this is necessary. The Inclusive translation chooses to say, “Don’t be perturbed.” I had to look up the precise definition, but one meaning is “to throw into great disorder.” This is an entirely different, yet still rich word. I can imagine many of us feel as though we have been thrown into great disorder. This is the nature of apocalypse: the world is thrown into disorder where everything you thought you knew is no more.

We were surprised and we were thrown into disorder and now we are terrified. We are hearing of culture wars and white racist insurrections. We know that with trade wars and broken alliances nations will rise against nations. We know that unlimited fracking will cause more earthquakes. We know that climate change will create more famines and plagues. These are dreadful portents and signs from heaven. We know that all the progress we’ve made in the last 50 years is under attack. We know that we are at risk of violence, that our families may be torn apart by deportation or the dissolution of our marriages. We know that we face death, whether by policy or police or pogrom. Worst of all, we know that we have been betrayed by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends.

So feel your fears. Accept them. Because they are real. Luke warns us of what is to come. When you take on the name of God, the name of Christ and Sophia and the Word and the Light of the World and the Bread of Life, of Allah and Buddha and Krishna – by whatever name you call that which orders the world toward good – when you take on that name, there will be resistance. When you act for justice, when you build those houses and plant those gardens, you will be brought before the powers and principalities of this world and held to account. You will be held to account for not getting along, for disruption of business as usual, for rebellion against the status quo, for indecency in the public square, for impoliteness at the family table. You should be afraid because the calling of God is into the place of conflict, into the pain and suffering of the world. You should be afraid because Jesus came, not to bring peace, but a sword, a sword that divides brother from sister, parent from child, cousin from cousin, and friend from friend. If we do the things we ought to do, we might lose the people that we love, people who are invested in the status quo, invested in the way the world is with no imagination of what it might be – constantly looking backward rather than forward. It hurts.

It hurts to lose them, but it also hurts to know they could not see a future with you in it as you truly are. Turning back the clock, making America great again, implies that we were great when you were not, when you didn’t exist. When you hid away in the corners of the Black Cat Lounge and the Stonewall Inn, we were great. When you served us dinner and mopped our floors, your eyes downcast and speech deferential, we were great. When you made our grapes and our lettuce magically appear in our grocery stores, freshly washed of any reminder of you, we were great. When you stopped speaking your mother’s tongue and wearing the clothes she made you, we were great. When you stayed at home baking cookies and standing by your man – then we were great. If we were just more like them, behaved in the ways they demand, loved the people they love – and convert or conquer the rest – we – all of us – would be great again. It is as though your existence, living into the truth of who you are without shame or fear – that is what caused us to go astray.

Feel your fears and your grief, but don’t let them consume you. Give yourself a chance to grieve; allow yourself to be angry. This will also give a moment to let things play out, to see if moderating forces can be brought to bear on the one that says, “I am the One.” I also don’t want to cede the power of good and the hope of justice. This is not a time for despair, but a time to work because we believe in the promise of Isaiah, that there will be no more weeping or cries for distress. We believe that we can be reconciled, that the wolf will lie down with the lamb. But we also believe that the serpent must be content to crawl on the ground and eat nothing but dust. Whatever hurts or destroys has no place on God’s holy mountain.

So what do we do? How do we come back from exile?

First, we take on God’s name. We continue to practice justice. We continue to stand with those who are threatened and assaulted. This alone provides a witness to the name we claim as our own. Many will come in God’s name, but we must not allow people to be fooled. In the living of our lives, we provide testimony to God’s goodness.

Second, we must actually testify. We will be called to account. When we are, Luke’s Jesus tells us not to prepare a defense. It could be read to mean that we should just wing it, that the Holy Spirit will magically move our tongues and flap our lips and everyone will be convinced of our righteousness. Does that really happen? Instead, I wonder if the call here is to be open to the moment, vulnerable to the person standing right in front of you. We’ve all had those conversations where both parties simply rehearse the arguments they have had a million times. You’re not even listening to each other. You’re just waiting for the other person to stop talking, so you can make point number three in your surefire winning argument. Does it ever work? But if you really listen to one another, really pay attention and make yourself present, you hear more than any argument could tell. Behind the “they took our jobs” rhetoric is a father struggling to feed his family or a mother who doesn’t have time to help her kids with their homework. Behind the racial anxiety is a kind of isolation. Behind the fear of judgment is a lack of alternatives. In our lives and in our speech, we can be that alternative, our loving engagement can be the remedy to that isolation. Nothing transforms the other like real relationship, being present to their pain and their wonder and allowing them into ours. They cannot withstand this; they cannot contradict it. Because it’s not an argument; it’s a relationship.

If we do these things, we will gain our souls. We will be able to stand without fear or regret in the full truth of who we are as God’s children. Only then can we have reconciliation. Only when we regard one another fully, only when we bind our lives together in mutual respect can the wolf and the lamb feed together and the lion share straw with the ox.

Never give up on the promise! We did not know when the apocalypse would come and we do not know when the promise will be fulfilled, but we must always live into that hope. If we do, it will certainly come sooner. If we build and plant, then we might live and eat. We will not labor in vain and our children will not be born to calamity. And we’ll do it together. There will no longer be an us and a them. We will all be a we; we will all be us. That is our hope and God’s promise and I believe it to be true because this is not a metaphor.

Finding Life in a Place of Death

// March 28th, 2016 // 1 Comment » // Church in The Cliff

This was the sermon from Easter Sunday:

When the women go to the tomb on that Sunday morning, they are expecting to find a corpse. Because Jesus died after noon on a Friday, it was not possible to properly prepare his body for burial. The women who had followed him all the way from Galilee returned on Sunday morning to complete the task. They would perfume the body with spices, then tuck it away in a little room to decompose. In about a year, their Jesus would be nothing more than dry bones, collected, rearranged, and moved to make room for another body, the dead piled on top of the dead. The women came to the tomb expecting death.

But a funny thing happened. When they arrived at the tomb, the stone was rolled away. This stone is a large, heavy, wheel-like disc that rolls in a track. It is a cold, hard boundary between the place of the living and the place of the dead.

This is how we like it: death behind a wall where we can’t see it. Underground. Made up and dressed nice. Somewhere in the far future behind years of healthy eating and miracle drugs and desperate surgeries. We live as though life and death are binaries, separated by a wide chasm of good choices. But that boundary is not so thick, not so heavy, that chasm not so hard to cross as we would like to believe. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, the hands of angels move it aside so that we can witness the truth.

The women came to the tomb expecting death and we often do the same. We worry about death. We fear it. But that fear turns in on itself and somehow brings death closer. We buy guns and build walls and pray to Jesus to take us home. But Jesus never left.

The women came to the tomb expecting to find the dead body of Jesus, the man who they followed from Galilee. For three years, they supported his ministry. They travelled the long road to Jerusalem, the road to suffering and death. They followed him because he offered them salvation.  He offered them freedom. He offered them equality. He offered them a voice, a voice that was their own. They came to the tomb expecting to find all their hopes and dreams lying dead, a lifeless body torn apart by a cruel empire.

Instead, they found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. It was not what they expected. They were perplexed, anxious, confused. Thankfully, there were some friendly angels in fabulous clothes to remind them of what they already knew: that Jesus told them this would happen. Speaking with the eschatological title “the Son of Man,” he told them that he must be handed over to sinners – for Luke, the wealthy elites who oppressed the common people – be crucified, and on the third day rise again.  This must mean that Jesus was, in fact, alive. They were in the wrong place to see the risen Christ because they were looking in the place of the dead. Where they expected to find death, they found a hint of life.

Both Mark and Matthew tell us that they left with joy, fear, and amazement, but Luke simply says they returned from the tomb and told everyone the Good News. Because the tellers of the tale were all women, the apostles were of course skeptical. You know how women are. They get all emotional and excited. They can’t be taken seriously. They certainly can’t be president. We need the reserved dignity and moderation that is the nature of men.

The Gospel of Luke has been called “The Women’s Gospel.” Luke features women far more than Matthew and Mark. For every parable about a man, there is a corresponding parable about a woman. Yet there is a tension in Luke’s treatment of women. Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza and others have pointed out that, while Luke features women, he does not often give them a voice. Over the course of Luke and Acts, women become less prevalent. The resurrected Jesus does not appear to women in the Gospel of Luke as he does in Matthew and John. The women an empty tomb with an angel and men get the risen Jesus. And yet, here, I think, is an opportunity to read against the text or perhaps excavate things that Luke hints at, but can’t fully live into. It’s possible that Luke is describing what happened after Jesus’ death – the gradual marginalization of women – while suggesting that it should not be so.

Chief in the evidence against Luke is the fact that the women’s account of the tomb is dismissed. Peter believes enough to go check, but his amazement seems required to validate the claim. When Cleopas and another disciple meet Jesus unknowingly on the walk to Emmaus, they cite the women’s account with some skepticism. Though Peter was amazed at what had happened, the takeaway seems to have been that no one saw Jesus. Then he says to them: “Oh, how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!” Perhaps I am being a generous reader, but isn’t it possible that Jesus is including the women among the prophets here? They spoke with divine beings and delivered the good news of the resurrection. In Cleopas’s remarks to Jesus, he repeats that it was the claims of the women that are in question and Jesus’ response is that they are foolish not to believe the prophets.

Luke’s Gospel has also been called “The Gospel of the Poor.” From the beginning, Luke sets up the story as a cosmic battle between good and evil and the good characterizes the lowly, the laborer, the outcast, where the evil characterizes the high-born, the powerful, the elite. Sinners are rich and the righteous are poor. The arc of the narrative is to overturn the current order to strike down what is high and raise up what is low.  It’s known as “The Great Reversal.” In many places in Luke, women are the representatives of the lowly, especially widows, those who depend on societal support. So if we are looking for the righteous in our world, we need not be restricted to the widow, alien, and orphan, though those are often good places to start. We simply have to find whoever is marginalized in our world.

When we are confronted with the weighty matters of glory, our first step should be to listen to the marginalized, to those who come face to face with suffering and death. When the black community says that they are being terrorized by police, as they did for years before the Rodney King beating, as they did for years before Ferguson, we have to listen. Instead, we wait for video – and not just one! After Eric Garner is strangled and 12-year-old Tamir Rice is shot and Sandra Bland is harassed, arrested, and found dead in her cell, we’re still not sure. We find ways to dismiss their claims, to blame the victim. We advise them on how to behave properly, to be respectful and do what their betters tell them to do.

When queer kids tell us about bullying at school and the rejection of their families that leaves them homeless, we tell them to toughen up or deny who they are. When women speak of their hardship in having their only source of medical care taken away, we tell them to just go to another doctor. When the impoverished cry out for food, shelter, health care, and safe communities, we tell them to move and get a job. When the victims of global poverty and endless war try to do just that, we tell them to wait and wait and wait. When people who experience death on a daily basis – sometimes literal death, but often the smaller deaths of being told they aren’t good enough, don’t belong, or don’t matter – when the suffering cry out to us we turn a deaf ear.

But these are the witnesses to the resurrection. Only by going to the cross and seeking out the dead can we find life. So, for those of us who are privileged – and I would bet that everyone in this room is privileged in some way – we can only see the resurrected Jesus if we walk alongside those who suffer. This is the Gospel. As James Cone says in A Black Theology of Liberation, “there can be no theology of the Gospel which does not arise from an oppressed community. This is so because God is revealed in Jesus as a God whose righteousness is inseparable from the weak and helpless in human society.” If we cannot even listen to those who suffer, we have no part of the Gospel.

We see this Gospel in action. Out of the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Jordan Davis, Sandra Bland – the list, sadly, goes on and on and on – out of these tragedies, we see the BlackLivesMatter movement finally expressing the frustrated dreams of a generation that saw the hard fought gains of their mothers and fathers taken away – taken away in the War on Drugs, trickle-down economics, voter suppression, unequal housing and education – the list, sadly, goes on and on and on. Out of the AIDS crisis that devastated the gay community while the White House denied its existence, we got an organized resistance that fought for same-sex marriage and non-discrimination ordinances, and continues to fight to maintain what has been gained and gain even more for our queer family. Out of this latest in the ongoing assault on women’s rights and fundamental dignity, I believe we will see women empowered like never before. This is not “just” politics. This is the resurrection life.

It is not that this suffering and death is somehow justified or “worth it” or “serve a purpose in the greater scheme of things,” but that it can be redeemed. Those deaths – whether of black people at the hands of police and vigilantes, or of queer people at the hands of parents and closeted bullies, or of women at the hands of abusive spouses or substandard medical procedures – those deaths can never be justified. They are never worth it. But contained within each of these moments of suffering, there is the possibility of new life just waiting to be witnessed and proclaimed and fought for. If we turn our eyes away from death, we never get to see life. If we cover our ears to lament, we never get to hear exultation. If we don’t go to the tomb and we don’t pay attention to those who do, we are fools and we will miss out on the greatest gift in all creation.

The women went to the tomb expecting to find death. But in that cold tomb of despair, they found the hope of new life. This is the Gospel. This is the Good News. This is the resurrection.

A Response to Charleston (preached Sunday, June 21, 2015)

// June 22nd, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

I’ve been trying to figure out why the events in Charleston this week have affected me as they have.  Yes, it’s a tragedy.  Nine good people are gone from this world.  But let’s face it: this happens every day.  Every day, our news cycle is filled with death.  I become immune to it just like everyone else.  There might be a moment of outrage, a shake of the head, maybe a tsk tsk at whoever is to blame.  But we get over it.  We move on.  Lest we become mired in cynicism and hopelessness, we distract ourselves with cat videos or cooking shows or the new Cajun-Vietnamese restaurant that we just can’t wait to try.  These strategies work.  They make us feel better, but they never dispel the hopelessness.  They just set it off to the side.

This is white privilege.  We can set things off to the side.  We can choose to be outraged for a moment and then not be.  Our lives are not on the line.  We can set an entire people off to the side, a whole community, which is exactly what we do.

The Emancipation Proclamation was signed on January 1, 1863.  It effectively ended slavery in the United States.  And yet, slavery continued in the state of Texas until June 19, 1865, which is now celebrated all over the United States as Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, the day that slavery really ended.  There is some contention over why it took two-and-a-half years for the Proclamation to have its effect.  Some say the messenger was killed on his way by horseback to Texas.  It was a dangerous time.  Some say that white slave owners simply didn’t tell their enslaved captives the news, which is probably true.  Why would they?  Some say that Northern generals held back the news so that Texas could provide a couple of more cotton harvests with free labor.  All or none of these may be true; the Internet is not entirely trustworthy.  But one thing we know: 250,000 black people enslaved by white people had to wait for two-and-a-half years to be free.  Whatever the reason, the end result is the same: white people prospered while black people suffered.

Black life in America is a life of waiting.  Two-and-a-half years to be free – that on top of centuries of kidnapping and murder, being bought and sold like a mule.  I listen to songs from the civil rights movement and I cannot believe how current they are.  “We Shall Not Be Moved.”  “We Shall Overcome.”  “Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.  Hold on.” These songs should be relics of a fight well fought and ultimately won, but we can dust them off at any time without fear of anachronism.  Langston Hughes called it “a dream deferred.”  Reverend King said, in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,”: “This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’”  Perhaps more hauntingly, he described “forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’”

We have raised the defense of King’s nobodiness to a pernicious art form.  Watch the news cycle any time racial justice is at stake.  Whenever a white person has appeared to act wrongly to a black person, check your social media.  Never read the comments, but sometimes read the comments.  We should know who is out there and how ideas become pervasive in our culture.  The Internet allows us to share information at such a rapid rate.  Coupled with the 24-hour news cycle to which a terrifying number of people are constantly glued, ideas move from suggestion to fact, from “could be” to “definitely” in the blink of an eye.  An idea is floated by bobbleheads then repeated until it becomes truth.

It’s called “shaping the narrative.”  We withhold judgment until the facts are in.  We get more and more information.  We hear from witnesses.  We listen to recordings of 911 calls and from cellphones that just happened to be on at the time.  We want to know who the characters in the narrative are.  What is their background?  What was their family like?  What were the immediate circumstances under which they entered our story?

All of this effort purports to be in service of the truth, but it is really in search of one truth: it’s not really the white guy’s fault.  We will feign ignorance until we can find a way to know that it wasn’t his fault.  We will lament that there was no video, until there is.  When there is video, we will determine why video doesn’t tell the whole story.  This document of reality is suddenly insufficient.  We pornographically analyze it frame by frame.  This is an aggressive move.  This is motion in his peripheral vision.  Threat, threat, threat.  Fear, fear, fear.

Y’know what I never see?  This kind of effort brought to bear in the service of proving a black person’s innocence.  It doesn’t happen.  Ever.  All we hear about black people is how big they are.  Their previous crimes.  Their suspicious behavior.  How rude they are.  Why don’t they respect authority?  Why don’t they comply?  Why don’t they sit down and shut up like a good Negro should?  To be black in America is to be guilty until proven innocent, to endeavor to be deemed, in the words of my grandmother, “one of the good ones.”  The black tax is in full effect.

It may seem obvious that this latest incident is the worst of the worst.  All suggestions of racism pale in comparison to the clear racist hate crime, the white terrorism, the assassination in Charleston.  Well, maybe not.  Fox News immediately ascribed fault to Christian persecution, even though Dylann Storm Roof passed twenty other churches on his way to Emmanuel AME.  Not one Republican presidential candidate cited race as a potential factor in this crime.  Even so, it is easy to dismiss this tragedy as the act of a singular, disaffected lunatic.  His actions take place in a vacuum without a broader context.  They certainly do not reflect on his white culture.  They did not derive from a broader social location.  They take no account of the confederate flag flying over his state.  He takes no comfort in a society that glorifies racism and treason from the principles of equality that bind this nation together.  He takes no notice of the ways that we regularly, consistently, compulsively diminish the cessation of black lives in America.  No, he was a just a lone actor, disconnected from any broader implications.  Therefore, we need do nothing but shake our heads in dismay.

President Obama is criticized for politicizing these deaths.  How does one politicize an action intended to spark a race war?  How is that possible?  In what way is a shooting intended to terrorize black people in the last place in which they felt safe, in the home church of a state legislator – in what way is that not a political act?  Sit down and shut up, black people.  You know what happens if you don’t.  What they mean is trying to harness a political will to do something about gun violence in America.

This is the fourteenth time Obama has had to stand up during his presidency and lament the tally of a mass shooting.  Nine people this time; twelve in a movie theater; twenty children and six adults in a school.  You know you are at the depth of evil when you can’t tell what’s worse: twenty kindergartners killed because they were defenseless or nine black people killed because they had come too far.  And, yes, the fact that I had to find some way of characterizing the reason for their deaths is a whole other level of wrong because nothing adequately explains what happened.  There is nothing that could make sense of these acts.

That is the secret of the media life cycle of these stories.  They are so horrible that we can’t fully make sense of them.  We are fed little tidbits that call our outrage into question.  Michael Brown stole cigars.  Trayvon Martin was suspended for marijuana.  Tamir Rice was holding a toy gun.  Dajerria Becton was mouthy.  Is that even a crime?  Mouthy?  I’m not a lawyer, but I question the mouthiness statute.  Oh, well.  The cop probably had a hard day.  Or felt threatened.   Or knew something was suspicious.  Might as well shoot somebody dead and work out the details later.

The events in Charleston are different – civilian perpetrator with a racist ideology – but they are only set aside by our constant dismissal of every other event.  We dismiss the vicious wrangling of a 15-year-old girl.  We dismiss the shooting of a 17-year-old boy by a white man who stalked him in the dark.  We dismiss the shooting of another 17-year-old boy by a cop who feigned an assault.  We dismiss the shooting of a 12-year-old boy by a cop who didn’t even bother to let his car come to a stop before firing and then neglected to provide even basic first aid for several minutes after they knew he was not a threat.  A child lying on the ground bleeding to death and no effort to save him.  By the time Dylann Storm Roof walks into the church in Charleston, what guideposts does he have to tell him that black lives matter, that these lives are precious in the eyes of God?  Honestly, if the national narrative around black lives is to be believed, I can’t think of a reason he should care.

As Christians, that is not our narrative.  Every life matters, but, in particular, the lives of the disenfranchised, the outcast, the different – these lives matter most to God.  In America, black lives matter most because black lives have been systematically excluded and devalued and destroyed for 500 years.  The Christian narrative is one of welcome.  The Christian narrative is one of hospitality.  The Christian narrative is one of justice.  I know it may not seem like that because of the pervasive attacks on an inclusive, compassionate, welcoming Christianity, but I promise the Good News of Christianity is hope for the hopeless, new life for those who have been beaten down.

If that promise is to be fulfilled, Christians need to act right.  The pernicious effect of the narrative surrounding racial justice is twofold.  Those who are inclined not to care about black lives are able do dismiss any events.  They are either completely understandable or completely unfathomable.  The perpetrator is either fully humanized with complex, nuanced motivations that are to be pitied, but understood, or fully distanced so that it bears no resemblance to any sort of recognizable humanity.  In any case, this person does not live where we live.  On the other hand, those who are inclined to care about these injustices are worn down.  Racism and gun violence seem to be intractable problems in America.  As Mike Yard said on the Nightly Show, “Let’s be real.  If they didn’t change gun control laws after Sandy Hook, what makes you think it’s going to happen now?”  I’ve seen friends online, committed liberals, state unequivocally that gun control is a dead end.  They won’t waste any effort on it.  And we’ve got a black president, so racism is over.  For those who care about justice, there seems to be no path, no way forward, no hope.

Perhaps I am naïve – and maybe naïveté is what we need now – but I think there is a way forward.  The first step is to absolutely, unequivocally refuse to accept the narrative that the small things don’t matter, that they are somehow justified or reasonable.  Only by paying attention to the smaller slights do we see the larger pattern of racism and injustice.

Second, we must act politically.  Reverend Pinckney was a state senator who fought tirelessly for the people of his district and the people of South Carolina.  He worked to eliminate poverty, police brutality, and racial discrimination.  Make no mistake, this was a political assassination.  It was not only an attack on the last place that black people might feel safe in a world that seems to want them dead, but an attack on black political power, an attack on the will to change the material circumstances of black people in America.  Some of those who now send their condolences promote the same system of white supremacy through the more civil avenues of voter ID laws and gerrymandered districts that suppress black political power.

Finally, we need more black friends.  I know it’s a cliché.  When people say or do something racist, they simply say that some of their best friends are black and suggest that whatever racist thing they just did is forgiven or accepted or even supported by their black friend.  It’s all good!  But I think we need more black friends.  I really do.  Not just Facebook friends, but real friends.  Go to lunch.  Talk about TV or kids or aging parents or the terrible manager you work for.  It doesn’t matter.  Get together and talk.  Sooner or later, something will happen: a shooting, a city council meeting, a pool party.  It doesn’t matter.  Sooner or later, there will be a crisis with racism at its heart.  Without a relationship to facilitate honest conversation, we’ll have no role to play.  You can’t support someone through tragedy or celebrate in victory without the wellspring of a relationship to sustain us.  Crisis is no time to start.

To be the body of Christ is to be bound together in the heart and mind of God.  Though their lives on this earth have ended, their presence is still with us, sustained by the memories of their loved ones, the love they shared with their community, and God’s faithful, abiding grace.  We cannot change what happened to them, but we can redeem it.  We can commit ourselves to seeking a better path, to being agents of healing and transformation, to tear down the divisive structures of power that say that some lives don’t matter.  Let us abide with one another as God abides in us.

 

Death and the Possibility of New Life (Gun Violence Sabbath Sermon)

// March 17th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

(This was my sermon from Sunday’s Gun Violence Sabbath.  – Scott)

Erbie Bowser was a school teacher who worked with special education students. He was an imposing figure at 6-foot 7-inches and 335 pounds, but was described as a “gentle giant” by those who knew him. He liked to have fun, entertaining crowds before Mavericks games with the a dance troupe for overweight men, the ManiAACs. In 2010, he quit his teaching job to form his own non-profit to provide clothing, tutoring, and food for children. By all accounts, he was a good man.

In 2011, Erbie and his wife Zina began divorce proceedings. Court documents show that he warned her against taking any of their property, saying, “I will bury you.” He emphasized the point by opening a pocket knife and adding, “Call the police and I will execute your kids.” The judge granted a protective order, which barred Erbie from coming within 200 yards of Zina or her children. The judge wrote in his report: “Family violence has occurred and is likely to occur in the future.” On August 7th of 2013, the judge’s prescient words were fulfilled.

Erbie Bowser began his shooting spree at 10:30 pm in the home of his ex-girlfriend, Toya Smith. He killed Toya and her daughter Tasmia as well as injuring Toya’s son Storm and family friend, Dasmine. When the police arrived at Toya’s house, Erbie was gone, but Dasmine bravely identified him from a photo lineup. The Dallas police suspected that he might go after Zina next, so they alerted the DeSoto police that he might be on his way. As the DeSoto police made their way to Zina’s house, they received a 911 call that there was an incident at the home. Erbie Bowser shot and killed Zina and her daughter Neima and wounded her two boys, aged 11 and 13, before running out of ammunition.

I don’t know what happened in Erbie’s life that sent him down this path of violence. It’s possible that he had a breakdown of some kind in 2010 that caused him to quit his job and created marital problems. It’s also possible that, like many cases of domestic abuse, the threats and violence went on for years, but was well hidden outside his family. Since his arrest, neither he nor his lawyers have said anything publicly while he awaits his capital trial in prison. In any case, it wasn’t exactly beyond reasonable supposition that something like this could happen. The divorce judge predicted it and did what he could to prevent it. Interestingly, one thing he could not do is prevent Erbie Bowser from having a gun.

The discourse around gun violence quickly descends into a series of claims and counterclaims, with statistics flying around like the bullets they represent. We argue about how to label things. Is it a mass killing? A shooting spree? Is it gang violence? We slice and dice the numbers into murders and accidents and suicides. We even compare the number of gun deaths to other ways we might die. These are all important distinctions because they point to multiple causes and multiple possible solutions.

However, they also become ways to distance ourselves from the problem. Mass killings are committed by kids who are mentally ill – they either aren’t medicated enough or they are medicated too much, depending on who you ask. Gang violence is only a problem for “them,” for “those people,” the people that live wherever I don’t live. Because why would you live in a place like that, anyway? That’s why it’s so important to distinguish between North Oak Cliff and South Oak Cliff, right? By dividing things up into a myriad of smaller problems we convince ourselves, first, that each problem is not really so bad, and, second, that the possible solutions are so varied and complex that we can’t possibly solve them all. Why even try?

We seem to overlook the one common denominator: guns. Across class, race, and geography, whether unjustified or justified, accidental or purposefully self-inflicted, guns remain the most efficient way to destroy a life. Bullets cannot be dodged or outrun. The damage they do is immediate, devastating, and longlasting. There are an infinite number of ways that someone might die, but there is one way that is extremely effective and absolutely pervasive: guns.

Frankly, when I consider the damage done, the easy availability, and the total inaction on the part of our representatives, I am mystified and I am angry. How many times do we have to turn on our televisions or our computers to see that someone has once again shot up a school or a mall or a theater or an office building? How many times must we be outraged? How many times must we be disappointed and lose interest and go on with our lives? Until the next time. Until the time it happens across the street or to people that we care about. At some point, all the isolated incidents add up to an epidemic. Something has to change.

In John, chapter 3, Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about being born again, born from above in the Spirit. This seems like nonsense to Nicodemus: a grown person can’t return to the womb to be born again. Jesus gently mocks him: How can you be a teacher of Israel and not understand this stuff? Jesus is simply explaining what he has seen and what he knows, but Nicodemus does not get it.

I feel this way when we talk about gun violence. We know that background checks work. In states where background checks are required for all gun sales 38% fewer women are killed with a gun by an intimate partner; there are 49% fewer gun suicides; 39% fewer police are killed with a handgun; and 64% fewer “crime guns” cross state lines. Yet, in spite of all that we know, people do not believe. Instead, people believe that we need more guns with unfettered access to them. It seems like nonsense to adopt anything other than a posture of opposition and defense. This is often the nature of the things of heaven: baffling to people of the world.

But Jesus speaks of earthly things. Jesus is in the flesh describing the human condition and the need to be reborn, but Nicodemus does not believe. What Jesus is saying should be obvious. We have all experienced that need for new life. How can Nicodemus, one of the wisest people in Israel, not understand that need? And if he can’t understand that, how could he possibly understand the things of God? To know God is to be reborn, to be transformed into new life in the Spirit. Flesh is flesh and spirit is spirit, it’s true, but we must understand both. In fact, understanding the things of the earth is a prerequisite for understanding the things of God. The two go hand in hand. To understand heavenly things, we must understand earthly things. We must see the world as it is.

We have a tendency to forget about gun violence. In between the heartbreaking tragedies, we convince ourselves that it was just that once. It’s just one disaffected youth, one disgruntled worker, one kid from the wrong side of the tracks. We don’t see the world as it really is. We forget that in America 1 in 3 people know someone who has been shot; every day 32 Americans are murdered with guns; 51 people every day kill themselves with a gun; and every day, 45 people are shot by accident. Our gun homicide rate is 20 times higher than our global peers; the only nations with more gun violence than the United States are countries torn apart by civil unrest. You have to go to a war zone to find a place more violent than America. Beyond the numbers, we forget the names of the victims and sometimes even the perpetrators. We stop seeing the families destroyed, the lives torn apart by loss and grief. For most of us, these awful tragedies have no face that persists in our memory. If we don’t see these things, if we don’t believe the epidemic all around us, how can we possibly know God?

God sent God’s only child so that the world might be saved. All we have to do is have faith. First, we must have faith that what God tells us about the world is true. We must have faith that the world was created for everyone to thrive. We must be passionate in that faith. Second, we must be faithful to God’s ways. From where will my help come? It comes from God and God alone. Do we trust in firepower or the powerful ways of God? Do we live in such a way that our thriving is set over against the thriving of another? Is reality at its core one of opposition, conflict, and struggle? Is that God’s way?

Grace Baptist Church in Troy, New York, is having a raffle next weekend. One lucky attendee of their Sunday morning service will receive an AR-15 assault rifle. The flyer promoting the event, mailed to all gun owners in Troy, backs itself with Scripture, the Gospel of John, in fact. It quotes John 14.27: “…my peace I give to you…” it says. It has ellipses before and after the quote, so it’s dot-dot-dot my peace I give to you dot-dot-dot, which usually indicates that there is something both before and after the text quoted. That made me curious, so I did a little investigating. It turns out that what is hidden behind the ellipses is very important. This is Jesus’ Farewell Discourse where he tells the disciples he is leaving and gives them an idea of what to expect after that. In 14.26, he tells them that he will send the Holy Spirit to teach them everything and to remind them of all he has taught them. Then, in the full text of 14.27, he says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Life in God is not a life of fear and opposition. The new life, life born of the Spirit, is a life of peace and wholeness.

The Lenten journey is a journey toward death. However, it is a death that promises new life on the other side. But where is the new life for those caught up in the cycle of violence? The world does not believe the testimony of experts. It does not believe the great witness of our civil rights leaders who achieved great change without firing a shot. The world does not hear the grief and anguish of the victims. It does not see the brokenness of the perpetrators. We see Erbie Bowser on the TV and call for vengeance, death at the hand of the state, blood on our hands. The child of God came into the world to save it, but we fail to believe the testimony. We fail to see the death all around us. As a result, we continue to experience death – over and over and over. But this death is only death. There is no new life in it. At times, it seems hopeless.

But just as the world no longer runs on a global system of slave trade, just as women can now vote, just as same-sex couples can marry in 17 states and counting, there is a way through. That way is God’s way. From where will our help come? It comes from God and God alone. God’s way is the way forward. But what is God’s way? God’s way is certainly to mourn the dead, see their faces, hear their names, weep with the families left behind. But we must also change. God’s way is not to simply mourn as the bodies pile up around us. God’s way is the way of peace and wholeness. Do not let your hearts be afraid. As we mourn the victims, remember that on the other side of that gun is a broken person who, for whatever reason, has run out of options. God’s way is to reach out to those people. God’s way is to create new options and new life. God’s way is to take the option of gun violence away from them.

But most importantly, God’s way is to shine light into the shadows where our representatives creep. Jesus ends his conversation with Nicodemus saying, “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” We can be instruments of peace and we can live our lives without opposition – and we should – but a problem of this magnitude requires systemic change. Attitudes must change, but so must laws. God’s way is to turn over tables in the temple. God’s way is to preach the good news in the presence of those who hate you. God’s way is to go to the house of Caiaphus and the palace of Pilate and, finally, to the cross. God’s way is to shine light on evil right to the end. This is the way to new life.

Mark: The Ministry of Mystery (Program and Sermon)

// November 13th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Program

Sermon Outline (loosely followed)

I.        Who is Jesus?

a.       Son of God

Used in opening and not again until the crucifixion.

b.      Son of Man

Jesus’ preferred way of referring to himself in Mark.  “Son of man” initially just means “human” in the Hebrew Bible, but becomes the title of an eschatological judge in Daniel.  This develops into the messianic hope in the Intertestamental Period.

c.       Messiah/Christ

The Anointed One, initially used to denote priests and kings in the ancient world, it becomes a figure of Jewish eschatological hope.  Only Peter correctly identifies Jesus as the Messiah.

II.     Ministry

a.       Works of power

1.      healing

2.      feeding the hungry

3.      casting out demons

b.      Teaching

1.      public

Speaks in parables to the masses, not to make them understand, but to keep them from repentance.

2.      private

Explains things to disciples (not just the apostles) in private, but chastises them for misunderstanding.

c.       Messianic Secret

1.      Disciples

Correctly identify Jesus as the Messiah, but Jesus tells them to keep quiet.  They also seem to misunderstand everything else, especially parables.

a)      Mark 8:14-21

Fulfilling Isaiah 6:9-10

b)      Mark 8:27-30

2.      Outsiders

Often correctly identify Jesus as the Son of God, though never using that precise wording.

3.      Explanations

a)      when?

One solution to these complex twists and turns is scheduling.  Events need to happen in a certain order and on a certain timetable.  We cannot understand Jesus as Messiah and Son of God until we see him suffer and die.

b)      to whom?

Often, Gentiles are allowed to tell their people about Jesus, but not Jews.  This could also be a practical concern to timing, that having Gentiles among his disciples could hasten the animosity of the Jews.

c)      what?

The apostles are specifically charged with proclaiming the good news (10:7).  However, they are specifically prohibited from telling anyone that he is the Messiah (16:20).  Perhaps Jesus position as the Anointed One is not the good news.  Perhaps the good news is that people are being healed and fed and given peace of mind.

III.   Discipleship

a.       Authority

b.      Power

c.       Planting seeds

William Placher points out that farming is a mysterious business.  A farmer sows the seeds and waits.  Something is happening under the soil, but you don’t know what until something shoots up out of the ground.  The works of power and the teaching in parables might work like that.  People don’t know the right titles, but they know they are fed and healed and given peace of mind.  They are also told that the kingdom of God is near at hand.  Perhaps that is the seed that is planted, the small realization that there is alternative to the oppression and poverty of the current rule.

d.      Suffering

When you preach that alternative and reach for it, when those seeds begin to grow, you will probably suffer.  You may even die.  Some things are worth it.

Mark: The Beginning (Program and Sermon Outline

// November 8th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Program

Sermon Outline (loosely followed)

I.        Background

a.       Author

1.      Traditionally Mark, associated with Peter

2.      Unknown

b.      Occasion

1.      Fall of Temple

2.      Sack of Jerusalem

3.      Resolving relationship to two communities

a)      Jews

(1)   Rejection by priests and scribes
(2)   New temple

b)      Rome

c.       Community

1.      Greek speaking

2.      Gentile

3.      Persecuted

d.      Style

1.      Crude

2.      Clumsy

3.      Sense of immediacy

II.     What is the beginning?

III.   What is the good news?

a.       Challenge to dominant culture

1.      Religious authorities

2.      Government

3.      Social mores

b.      Alternative vision

IV.  Who is Jesus?

a.       Titles

1.      Son of God

2.      Son of Man

3.      Son of David

4.      Messiah

5.      Christ

6.      Anointed One

7.      Son of the Beloved One

b.      One having authority

c.       Messianic Secret

1.      Disciples

2.      Outsiders

Bread for the World Sunday (Program and Homily)

// October 23rd, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Program

Homily

If it’s alright with you, I’m going to preach a little today.  There’s a lot on the program today, so I just wanted to share some things I have on my mind, things that came up while working on this service.  I’d also like, instead of having the immediate feedback of a conversation, to have folks go home and think about it, meditate on it a bit, and continue the conversation over the next few weeks or months.  Let’s call it an “introvert defensive move.”

This week I asked you to fast.  Did anybody do that?  As I wrote this, I guessed that most did not.  I’m guessing most lead lives where fasting is, at best, inconvenient if not downright impossible.  If you did, you probably found it difficult.  I missed a couple of meals, but it was easier for me.  I didn’t have class this week, so I reverted to my normal, unhealthy sleeping schedule.  And my normal breakfast is small, just some juice and a cereal bar.  When you sleep through half the day and then eat only slightly less than you normally would, it’s not a big deal.  I claim no particular merit.  But, much worse, I didn’t think about it.  I spent no time contemplating what I was doing or reflecting on the plight of the poor and hungry of the world.  In the end, what I couldn’t give up was not food, but time and attention.

We’ve talked about Sophia here a lot, though probably never enough.  Sophia, for those who don’t know is the embodiment of God’s wisdom, the feminine divine, the ordering principle of the world.  In Proverbs chapter 1, Sophia stands on a street corner shouting at passersby.  I’ve looked at that part of the book a lot.  It’s fun.  She’s bold and insulting.  She calls everyone idiots.  But I’ve never really looked closely at the end of that chapter.  There, she promises the people that, if they will listen, they will have a life of ease. Proverbs 1:32-33: “For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”

What Sophia wants for us is the good life.  The good life is not a life of idleness, a life of accepting the way the world is.  It’s active.  It’s focused.  It’s focused on God and God’s way.  The good life is life in God and God’s justice.  The good life is secure, free from worry.  The good life is peaceful.  The good life does not include the threat of destruction.  I want to think about these things on three levels: the personal, in the church, and in politics.

First, the personal.  I don’t get the feeling that many of us are at ease.  We’re all busy.  Some are busy trying to survive.  Just going to work and having a family is enough.  And some are going to school or volunteering through other organizations.  Some are overwhelmed by new jobs, old jobs, changing relationships, finding a safe, stable place to live.  When people aren’t busy, they’re trying to forget about all the stuff that makes them busy.  They want a break.  They want some fun.  They want a drink.  They want a nap.  Is this the good life?  Is this life in God?  Struggling to survive and then struggling to forget?

I don’t know if I have the solution to this.  Clearly, I don’t.  But I can offer a way of thinking about it, a way to be mindful of how we spend our time and attention.  See, fasting is not about food.  It’s about becoming conscious of a basic drive and how we fulfill it.  I’d like to suggest that we fast with our time and attention.  Try this week to ask a few questions.  Where is this activity coming from?  Who am I when I’m doing it?  And where does it take me?  I’m not asking you to change anything, but just to ask these questions.  Commit a little time and attention to your time and attention.

Second, the church.  It’s hard to get people in this church together in any organized way.  We spend a lot of time together, for many of us a couple times a week.  That time is precious to me and I think to others.  But then, when we ask for more, when we ask for service or study, it seems to cross a line beyond which the demand is too much.  This is not a judgment, but concern.  My fear is that I’m just adding to the problem.  My first semester at school, every professor in every single class started by exhorting us to some variation of “go slow and pay attention.”  Then they each assigned a hundred pages of reading.  I don’t want to do that.  Some, by personality, will keep taking on more.  Some, by personality, will disappear.  We risk burning people out and driving people away.  I don’t want that.  If you can’t find the good life, life in God, the life of ease that God promises is God’s way, in the church, where can we find it?

Again, I don’t have the solution, but I want us to become mindful of the problem.  As a church, how can we make each other’s lives easier instead of harder?  What models exist in our tradition?  As a church, we are supposed to take care of each other, support one another.  Acts 2:44 tells us that “All who believed were together and had all things in common.”  Some of the greatest advances in culture and science in the West came out of monastic communities where people kept a rule of life, simple lives held in common.  Or consider the Beguines.  The Beguines were women who had no dowry and, so, little prospects for marriage.  They banded together in communities, shared housing, worked, saved, and focused on God.  Sometimes they were able to save enough for their own dowries and moved on to marriage and family.  But sometimes they found that they liked the life they had, working for their own money, sharing it with people they cared about, studying and meditating and working for justice.  They had found the good life and wanted nothing else.  Maybe Sophia is on to something.

Finally, government.  In a few minutes, we are going to write letters to Congress asking them to support programs for the hungry and the less fortunate.  Take a moment to think about how these programs impact the lives that people actually live, how they might move someone toward the good life.  When I worked in an office, I was usually there late.  I got to know the cleaning people a little bit.  One woman told me that this was one of three part-time jobs she held down.  Her oldest kid, 21, was unemployed and getting in trouble with the law.  Her 16-year-old was struggling in school.  She couldn’t go to the parent-teacher conference because she couldn’t afford to take off work.  Even if she could, she would probably be fired if she missed a shift.  There’s always someone else to take her place.  She struggled.  To put food on the table, to keep a roof over her head, and to try to give her kids a chance at something better.  The schools were underfunded, the teachers overworked, and if something went wrong, there was no net to catch her and her family.  Is that the good life?  Is that life in God?  A lot of activity – she wasn’t lazy by any stretch; she worked a lot harder than I did – but not much came of it.  There was no security, no peace, and disaster loomed every moment of every day.  How do you find God in that, even expect the possibility of God in the middle of that?  Where can her time and attention go?

Now, imagine a world in which her children were guaranteed to have something to eat, guaranteed to have a roof over their heads, guaranteed to have healthcare.  How would she be spending her time?  How would they grow up?  Instead of watching their mother struggle in futility, maybe they see her finish her education, fulfill her dreams, and maybe they think they can have dreams, too.  In a democracy, we get to make choices about the lives we create for the people in our world.  We don’t just have to imagine what if.  Remember that when you vote and remember that as you ask your representatives to care for the poor and the hungry in our community.

The essence of worship, of study, and of relationship is time and attention.  Where is yours?  Where is ours as a church?  Where is ours as a nation?  What kind of world are we building in our personal lives, in our spiritual lives, and in our lives as citizens that allows our time and attention to be spent on the things of God, that allows life in God to flourish?  Isaiah tells us that life in God is a life of justice.  Let’s begin to think about how we can structure our lives together so that we might share our bread with the hungry, house the homeless, and clothe the naked so that our light breaks forth like the dawn.  That is the good life.

How to Read the Bible (Program and Sermon)

// October 16th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Program

Sermon Outline (loosely followed)

I.        Introduction

a.       Review

1.      Literal

2.      Allegorical

3.      Moral

4.      Anagogical

b.      Read out loud

1.      Jonah

2.      God

3.      Captain

4.      Sailors

5.      Narrator

6.      Newsreader for the King of Ninevah

II.     Literal

a.       What does it say?

b.      What doesn’t it say?

c.       What voices are left out?

d.      Who wins and loses?

e.       Is it true?

III.   Allegorical

a.       What does this tell us about Christ?

b.      What patterns do you see?

c.       How does this connect to your own life?

IV.  Moral

a.       What should you do?

b.      What happens if you do or don’t?

c.       Can this guidance be trusted?

d.      Are there alternatives?

V.     Anagogical

a.       What does this say about the End?

b.      How are we to live now in light of that end?

c.       What does this say about destiny and fate?

d.      Ignatian Method and discussion.

How to Read the Bible: The Anagogical (Program and Sermon)

// October 11th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Program

Sermon Outline

I.        Review

a.       Literal

b.      Allegorical

c.       Moral

d.      Anagogical

II.     Classical

a.       Anagogical

b.      Destiny

c.       Prophecy

III.   Modern

a.       Dispensationalism

b.      Process theology

c.       Speaking prophetically

IV.  Post-modern

Finally, we come to the anagogical sense, which interprets the things related in Holy Scripture “as they signify what relates to eternal glory.” This meaning is not restricted to the state of glory in Heaven, but also pertains to the contemplative participation in the heavenly realities here and now. (Brother Andre Marie)

a.       Intertextuality

b.      Reader-response

c.       Lectio Divina

1.      Read

Read slowly, multiple times, shifting focus each time

2.      Meditate

If a particular word or phrase stood out, focus on that word, repeated over and over to enter into the word

3.      Pray

Talk to God

4.      Contemplate

Silently listen for God

d.      Ignatian Method

1.      Center yourself

2.      Read the passage twice

3.      Reconstruct the scene

4.      Place yourself in the scene

5.      Converse with God

e.       Bibliodrama

How to Read the Bible: The Moral (Program and Sermon)

// October 2nd, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Program

Sermon Outline

I.        Ancient

a.       Do good, get good

b.      Do good, suffer, get good later

II.     Classical

a.       Bible as guidebook

b.      Problems with literal truth

1.      Transmission

2.      Translation

3.      Interpretation

4.      Application

c.       Problems with allegorical truth

1.      Interpretation

2.      Application

d.      Both create problems with moral truth

III.   Modern

a.       The Bible speaks authoritatively on everything about which it speaks

b.      The Bible speaks authoritatively on everything

IV.  Questions

a.       Does the Bible guide you?

b.      If so, how?  If not, why not?

V.     Post-modern

a.       Ethical interpretation

Everyone comes to Scripture with existing ethical commitments and Scripture is interpreted in terms of those commitments.  For example, the Bible never speaks of abortion, but verses like Psalm 139:13-15 and Jeremiah 1:4-5 are regularly used to support a pro-life position.  These are interpretive moves.  Post-modern commentators simply acknowledge their moral commitments that guide their interpretation.  For example, the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is frequently thought to be homosexuality, but their faults are never really explained.  A queer commentator comes to the text with an ethical commitment that would lead to an alternative explanation.

b.      Not-so-post-modern

“Thus Augustine, for example, teaches that any interpretation of scripture that does not promote the love of God and neighbor cannot be a correct meaning of scripture even if it is thought to coincide with the intentions of the human author.” – Dale Martin

VI.  Morality of the meal

Jesus frequently dined with all kinds of sinners, including the much-maligned Pharisees.  There’s something about sharing a meal with someone, regardless of difference, that dissipates anger, fear, and malice.  Hand to hand and face to face, we break down the boundaries that divide us against one another, the barriers that hide the image of God.