Monthly Archives: August 2016

Love divides

A sermon on Luke 12:49-56

I gotta tell you, I love cranky Jesus. He’s kind of my favorite — because cranky Jesus is so human. But even though I love cranky Jesus, this story has long troubled me. As much as I love cranky Jesus, I need peaceful Jesus.

So, what happened here?! What’s up with Jesus? Where is the love your neighbor as yourself Jesus, the turn the other cheek Jesus? The gather them in like hens Jesus?

He’s right here. This anger, this frustration Jesus seems to be feeling (and it seems to happen semi-regularly), comes from a place of deep love.

It may be hard to see that. In a time that appears to be s divided, when pollsters and our own dinner tables tell us that this nation is more divided than ever before…. I don’t know about you, but I could use some togetherness. I have had it with division, with the yelling, with the my way or the highway conversations we all seem to be having (myself definitely included). I’m in the “can’t we all just get along?” place pretty regularly. And yet, there are things that need to be said, people who need to be heard, bondage from which people must be released, inequalities that need to be addressed and hate speech that must be stopped.

To walk in the path of Jesus, to have the love and compassion of Christ in your heart, to be lit on fire by the holy spirit… this means that we will get angry sometimes. There is so much injustice and cruelty in the world, it is impossible to walk in compassion and love and not feel outraged at what we see happening in the world. And when we speak out in righteous anger at the evil we see in the world, division will occasionally result. We don’t like being called out, we don’t like it when others point out to us that we might be being a jerk, because then we have to look inside of ourselves and see that we might have some jerkier parts and maybe we should look at those. So, instead of thinking about the possible truth in what is being said, we get angry, we fight, we storm off. This is a natural consequence of living out the gospel in the world. Sometimes, well, we are going to make people mad by calling them to account for what they have done and said.

We are called, as Christians, to love the Lord our God with all of our heard, soul and mind and love our neighbors as ourselves. We are, in the words of first John, to love one another because love is from God and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God. God is love. Love is a verb. It is active. And love in action isn’t all kitties and rainbows. Sometimes love in action means putting your foot down. Sometimes it means standing up for someone else. Sometimes it means marching, shouting, writing letters. Sometimes love in action says enough is enough.

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The first place to look at this is with ourselves and how we allow others to treat us – for before we can love others, we must love ourselves. In order to truly love another human being, to see others as beloved children of God, we must first understand that we ourselves are beloved children of God. This means treating ourselves with love and respect. Sometimes it means taking a hard look in the mirror and doing a lot of work so that we can get on the right path and begin to love ourselves. It can mean confronting ugly truths about who we have been, things we have done, thoughts we have had – but if we truly love ourselves, we will get the work done. Then we will make sure other people love and respect us the way we love ourselves.

When a person loves themselves, they will demand to be treated with love and respect. For example, I might (if I feel safe enough), let a man who has been disrespectfully calling out at me on the street know that behavior is not okay. I will speak up if I am being treated or spoken to as less than because I am a woman. I have had relationships come to an end because I would not be treated with disrespect anymore, because I would not be treated in ways that I didn’t see as loving anymore.

I know I am not alone in this. We all, from time to time, are faced with someone we love treating us in ways that are hurtful and we are called to speak up, to say that we are hurt, that we won’t be treated that way. Sometimes we have to do this with parents, with lovers, with siblings and with friends. Sometimes these will lead to a good talk and some healing. Other times, these conversations will not go well – we will be told that it was just a joke, that we shouldn’t take things so seriously, or we will be told that it’s our problem. There may be shouting, there may be a rift or a break in the relationship. All because we said I am a beloved child of God and I want to be treated as such. Father against son, and son against father…

There is a lot of talk about PC culture, everything is becoming too PC, people rail against Political Correctness. At its heart, this is what political correctness it. It is a person or a group of people saying, “Um, I don’t like being talked about that way. It hurts. Could you talk about me this way instead?” That’s all it is. It is people asking to be talked about in ways that reflect their status as a beloved child of God, in ways that support and embrace who they are as human beings. That’s all it is. Like everything, it can occasionally be taken too far, but a good 90% of what I see talked about as politically correct is people getting mad that they aren’t allowed to publicly insult others anymore. Daughter against mother, mother against daughter…

This brings us to the love of others. There is so much happening these days that is not loving to others and we, as Christians, are called to stand up for love. We are called to speak out when we hear statements that are racist, homophobic, xenophobic, or whatever other flavor of hate makes its way to Thanksgiving dinner, the water cooler, or the evening news. We are called to say no, that’s not okay.

Father-in-law against son-in-law

Son-in-law against father-in-law

There is a movement in this country to hide behind “sayin it like it is.” Now, I am all for telling it like it is, after all, I am a leader in a faith tradition founded by a man who spoke of the import of calling a thing what it is. We must do this. But it must be truthful, and the purpose should be to further the goals of love not sew the seeds of fear.

As we all know, there has been a lot of anti-Muslim rhetoric in the United States, coming from places high and low. This rhetoric has consequences. Yesterday, two men were shot on their way to their mosque. Shot in the back, without warning. No altercation. Execution. Imagine what might have happened if the shooter had been talking to someone else about how evil Muslims were and that other person had said, “Dude, that’s not okay. Maybe learn a little about Islam, talk to a Muslim or something.” What if that happened time and time again? Or what if those spouting hate from on high had been confronted repeatedly? What if they had been given pause in their commentary?

If you hear something, say something.

We are called to take action when we see hate in the world. And when change doesn’t come, we are called to get louder.

This is hard for us, particularly, I have learned, here in the Pacific Northwest. Y’all really like to be nice (I say y’all because I am still 90% Cleveland in my heart and that’s not how we do), to be polite, to not make waves. It’s also hard for women, in particular. We are socialized to not be a problem. To be polite. To not make waves. So we too often let other people hurt us. We too often let other people get hurt. Because we don’t want to make noise.

Jesus calls us to make noise in the name of love.

Jesus made people uncomfortable. He comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. He challenged the lives of those in power and held up those who had none. We are called to do the same. Even if it means daughter in law against mother in law.

Mother-in-law against daughter in law

We are called to speak truth in love.

Often, those of us who are willing to talk about racism, sexism, homophobia, social inequality (but race in particular) are told we are making it worse, that we are causing division. Those who are willing to call a thing what it is and name issues like racism aren’t making it worse, they are naming what is already there. They are shining a light on our darker spaces so they can be cleaned out. Naming it in the name of love so that it can be dealt with. So that it can be talked about. Evil loves the darkness because it can grow and thrive there. When we shine a light on it, it gets angry because it knows we are going to do some cleaning. We name evil to bring it to an end, and we are called to do this.

As it is written in the book of Hebrews, we have an amazing could of witnesses surrounding us who have taken much bigger risks to live out the mission of Christ. People have been beaten and killed in the name of love. This is the space to which Christ calls us. We are called to speak out against injustice at risk of alienation, hate, and division in our house, our workplace, and the rest of our lives. This is to pick up our cross and follow Jesus.

When love is a verb, when love is an action that you do each and every day of your life, division is a consequence.

When we love one another as we love ourselves, we risk creating division.

 

Parent against child

Child against parent

Partner against partner

Friend against friend

 

We are called to love.

We are called to act.

 

This is the price for the salvation we have in Jesus Christ.

 

Amen

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Defining Greatness

 

greatnessA sermon on Mark 10:32-45

When I was growing up, I went to church camp every year. As soon as I graduated High School (actually, a few weeks before I actually graduated), I headed off to camp to work for the summer. It was here that I not only learned the Christian Values I hold on to today, but I also had the opportunity to live them.

Carved in the stone by the waterfall was the phrase, “God is love.” The community I experienced there was the closest I have ever been to loving one another as yourself. It was the rare place where, as I grew up, I could be genuinely myself (even as I was still figuring out who I was).

It was also the place that thought me that I could question the church, that I could hate hymns (and that was okay), the place where I learned about the non-canonical gospels and the place where I heard my call to ministry and, try as I might, I could not unhear it.

Last month, I went back for the camp’s 75th anniversary. We had a picnic and everybody lined up. As though we were kids again (or really because some things don’t change no matter who old you get), some people rushed for the front of the line. I opted for the middle. The middle, at camp, was the safest place to be. Because you never knew when the staff would decide it was a “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” meal. It was a total crapshoot as to whether rushing to the front would actually get you served first or quickly land you at the back of the line. While I am generally not one to play it safe, I like to eat, so the middle always made the most sense to me.

Now this verse from Matthew, and the corresponding idea that is evidenced in both Mark (which we have here) and Luke, are tattooed in my memory, and this scripture regularly competes with what I have been taught by the world.

It started when I was young – my grandfather always told me to look out for number one. My father was in a pretty consistent battle to keep up with the Jonses (which, oddly, was most obvious in his weird desire to have the best lawn, but I digress). Awards went to the people who finished first, the kids who were fastest always got picked first, the kids who cut and pushed their way to the front of the line usually got it (and unless we were at church camp, that was just how it was). And on and on it goes. We are often rewarded when we fight to be at the front of the line or the top of the heap, no matter who we push aside or who gets stepped on.

More often than not, those who are at the front of the line or the top of the pile lord it over the ones below, often totally unaware of the real struggles those not at the front of the line have.

This is one of the biggest problems with being at the front of the line – you lose your ability to see those behind you. Even if you do decide to turn around, you can only see those just a bit behind you. You can’t see the back of the line.

When one surrounds oneself with privilege, it is so easy to forget the have-not’s. I grew up fairly well off, but I thought I was middle class because, for a long time, most of what I experienced was people richer than me. People who had houses on the lake with elevators down tot heir private beach, kids whose parents had multiple luxury cars – these things made my large 3 bedroom house and my parent’s buicks look positively poor. To my parent’s credit, they tried to show me, they tried to tell me, but it wasn’t until I went off on my own and made friends in other places that I got to see how truly wealthy I was. I couldn’t see the rest of the line from where I was standing, in large part because I was so concerned with who was in front of me, I rarely thought to look back.

We hear a lot of talk today about greatness. But rarely do we hear about what that word means to those who recite it over and over again. I suspect, however, that greatness means power and authority. I suspect that, in that context, greatness is a power, privilege, and position that allows certain groups to lord such things over others.

To those of us who follow Christ, a lot of the world’s paradigms are inverted. The way the world sees greatness is diametrically opposed to the way Christ sees greatness. We are James and John, asking to have a position that we don’t understand.

I mean, how entitled and blind are James and John to even ask this question? Seriously, they are asking the Son of God if he will give them whatever they want. What?! Who does that?! This requests makes me think these two have rarely heard no in their lives. It makes me think that they have, generally speaking, been at the front of many lines. It also shows clearly that they still don’t understand what Jesus is talking about, what Jesus is going to do. They just saw the transfiguration, and were likely thinking that they want that. They want to be all glowy and heavenly with Jesus and Abraham and Elijah. They still don’t get that the path to that place involves deep sacrifice, involves pain, involves death.

They want to be great, but they are thinking in the world’s terms, not in Jesus’ terms.

In the world, greatness is having your name on the top of buildings, it is wealth, it is the ability to cut to the front of the line and climb to the top of the heap by any means necessary, no matter who you slander, insult, or otherwise hurt along the way. Greatness is the ability to say whatever you want and not face consequences. It is to have enough power, authority and influence that the masses will not question you; everything you say is truth, even when your words are lies that hurt people. Greatness, in our current discourse, is being able to do whatever you want and not only not paying the price, but leaving the vulnerable to pay the price for you. It is backing out of promises and leaving those depending on you high and dry.

Greatness, in our current national conversation, means keeping to ourselves, protecting those who look like us, those who are “deserving”

For those who follow Jesus, greatness is defined differently. Greatness is going to the back of the line, it is moving to the back of the bus and offering our place to someone who was forced to be in the back. It is handing the microphone to those who rarely get to speak. It is giving up what we have: our power, our privilege, our money, or our voice so that others might have a share in those things too. Greatness is serving. It is giving up our very lives so that we might serve those who have been pushed to the bottom of the heap. To be great, those of us who claim Christ and have power, privilege and/or wealth are called to give that up and serve those who have less.

Greatness gets mocked and spit on. Greatness gets crucified. Greatness dies discredited. Greatness does all of these things so that we might live. Greatness does this to show God’s beloved children that there is another way, that there is strength in weakness, there is winning in losing, there is salvation in death.

Those around this kind of greatness do not understand – they see power the way the world sees power. They focus on Christ as victor and king and deny his status as a crucified victim of an unjust system, as a man who got caught, as a brown skinned man from the middle east, as a loser. Strength shows no weakness, power no vulnerability. They cannot understand the necessity of the crucifixion, they move ahead to the resurrection to the ascension, to asking for a share in the power they do not even begin to understand.

But Christ shows us the power in weakness, the strength in vulnerability. Christ shows us that to move to the bottom of the power structure is to be at the top, that greatness isn’t about winning wars, dropping bombs, forcing others to bend to your will or making them do or be as you think they should. Greatness is not having your name at the top of a building; it is having your name atop a cross upon which you have been crucified.

Greatness is found in serving. Greatness is found in love. Greatness is found in giving up so that others might have. Greatness is found in the cross. Greatness is found in Christ.

Amen

 

As a part of this sermon, I read the poem Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes. Everyone should know it. Read it ASAP.