A Love Story

I have been thinking about my Grandparents a lot lately, more than usual.  They are both gone now, and with them an era, that I wonder will soon be forgotten.  An era of saving bread bags, napkins from Dairy Queen and fat from skillets.  An era of tools in the shed and strawberries in the garden, and fresh, ironed sheets and vinegar and water cleaned, windows.  An era of fresh-squeezed lemonade on the patio and plastic on the davenport.

My grandparents were characters.  Visiting them was like stepping into a book, where it was normal behavior to go dumpster diving for things that could be brought home and made  “good as new,” and meals were as sacred and as approachable as the Communion Table.  Where neighbors were known, and people came to visit through the back door.  Where hard work was valued above anything else.

I miss them.  I wish they were here to provide a historical perspective on things.  I wish I could ask them one more time about what they endured and what they overcame.

In my grandmother’s house, among her  Swedish horses and Hummel figurines, between the two chairs always sat a little, velvet dog with shaggy ears and shaggy feet.  He was really the only thing I was allowed to touch in the living room, and so I did.  He was soft and real looking, with a black nose and inquisitive eyes.  Grandma always said that he was her dog.  For some reason, they could never bring themselves to get an inside dog.  Maybe because it would be too expensive, or bring about too great of a mess, or be too much trouble, or chew up the couch, for whatever reason, an inside dog was replaced with the pretend dog that always behaved and never moved.

My grandmother died suddenly one day, leaving my grandpa with a house full of memories and tools and baking dishes.   Gradually, they sold everything, including the house, and eventually his car.  He moved into an assisted living facility.

The thing you need to understand about my Grandpa is that he never met a stranger.  To a point of irritation, you could not take him anywhere without him talking to the the waiter, the cook,  the mechanic, the teller and if there was a child in the room – forget it.  He could not pass by a child without a smile, or a game, or a gesture of compassion. The other thing you need to know is that he was completely deaf.

What do you with a deaf, widower, who loves people but cannot engage in conversations?   You get him a dog.

My mom found a little, white, shih tzu and brought him to his new home.  He named her Mitzi, for that’s what Grandma would have wanted.  From that day on, Mitzi and Grandpa were inseparable, and suddenly Grandpa became the most popular person  in the senior living center.   They would go for long walks, or she would ride proudly on  the seat of his walker.  She would crawl up on his lap and take long naps, and she was always willing to greet a stranger or engage with a child.  She was his greatest gift.

Years passed, grandpa aged, and aged, and aged until he looked like Old Man Time.  Eventually he slept more than he was awake, and Mitzi moved in with my parents and would come and pay him visits.  Mitzi would jump on the quilt, right next to him and they would sleep from lunch until dinner, as the warm sun streamed in and the trees watched over.

Grandpa died at 99.

Mitzi died yesterday.  She was 107.

I don’t know if two beings could have loved each other more than my Grandpa and Mitzi.  Love stories that are real, are the stories that sometimes occur between humans, and sometimes occur between animals and sometime  occur in communities.  They are stories that always have an arc of trial and persistence. They are the stories that aren’t very exciting, but are rather, mundane, constant, and sustaining.

Alan de Bottom wrote on Love: “Perhaps it is true that we do not really exist until there is someone there to see us existing, we cannot properly speak until there is someone who can understand what we are saying in essence, we are not wholly alive until we are loved.”

While I cannot go back to those days of pies cooling on the counter and turns in the hammock,  there is a presence that stays with me.  It’s not sexy or particularly earth shattering.  It’s there, like a little dog who will  never leave your side.  It’s a gift that says while the world may be different, and life will surely change again and again and again, one thing  remains constant.

It can only be love.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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The Atticus Project

atticus-finch-and-scout

My High School  Freshman is reading Harper Lee’s, To Kill A Mockingbird  in her English class.  The poor thing doesn’t have a chance, with two parents who have their own personal copies between us and own the movie, we are on her every minute, asking her “where she is in the book, what’s happening now, and has she gotten to the trial yet?”

It’s a beautiful book, with rich story telling of childhood, summertime, make-believe and growing up  in a time of political and social unrest.  Remember how Scout has to encounter her classmates and even her relatives say that Atticus is a  word that she is not aloud to say and doesn’t know what it means, or what they mean when they say it?  Remember how Atticus knows he is going to lose the case, but he takes the case anyway?  Remember how he tried to protect her and Jem from comments from a community that just assumed he be quiet? Remember how she curled up next to him on the porch swing, after she got in a fight with a classmate, and he said, “You never can fully understand someone until you consider things from his point of view” and then went on to say that “you need to climb into another person’s skin and walk around in it.”

That strong, protagonist we all admired was Atticus Finch.

Atticus never spoke harshly of his neighbors or of any person who saw the world differently than he did. He treated everyone, regardless of class or race with the same respect and dignity. He never tried to convince them to change their minds or call them names or demeaned their position.  He did try to be a voice of reason in a community that was divided racially and socio-economically.  In essence, he lived a life of integrity. He said, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

I dream of a world where we all find the Atticus living inside us.

We need to launch an Atticus Project in our nation. Imagine a world where we all take the higher ground. A fire has been stoked that is now ablaze and we have become far too comfortable using language that is divisive and obstructive. We need to calm down. That doesn’t mean we don’t speak the truth in love, or refrain from standing for the innocent, or abandon our integrity.  We do that and remain in relationship with each other.

My biggest worry, or fear, or anxiety is that some day there will be a crisis. -A storm will come, made by nature or man,  and we will all need each other.  We will need to bring a meal to a neighbor, a hand to a friend, water to a stranger, and it will not matter where we stand on the issues, it will matter that we stand together.

We need to take all of the anger and distrust and frustration we are feeling and turn those feelings into a movement of radical empathy. I got this term from this article in the Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/02/a-third-way-in-the-respectability-politics-debate/514667/

Empathy is a building block of morality—for people to follow the Golden Rule, it helps if they can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. It is also a key ingredient of successful relationships because it helps us understand the perspectives, needs, and intentions of others.

Without empathy, our morality crumbles.   Studies show that empathy is good for your health, it reduces bullying, it’s good for your marriage, and it reduces prejudice and racism.  Without empathy there cannot be a just society.

So I am calling for each and every one of us to participate in the Atticus Project.  A project in which we will try to be less judgmental and more empathetic.  A project in which we look upon our friends and strangers and try to see where they are coming from.

You look across the way and you think, “Man they are really scared.  I don’t really understand why they are scared, and I think they are really stupid for being scared, but they are scared.  I do not share their fear, but I have been afraid before. I know what fear feels like, I’ve been there. I know what I needed to hear when I was scared, maybe I can listen.”

You look across the way and you think, “Man, they are really happy.  They are so enthusiastic about the future and how things are going.  I don’t really share their hope, but I remember when I felt hopeful.  I remember feeling really annoyed with anyone who rained on my parade.  I remember wishing they would come on board and get with the program.   I can’t really do that, but I can respect that they feel hopeful, even though I don’t, maybe I can listen.”

My other daughter is studying India and is sitting across from me at the dining room table as I write this.  She just asked me how Ghandi died. I remember the story of how he brought a divided nation together and I remembered his words, “I offer you peace. I offer you love. I offer you friendship. I see your beauty. I hear your need. I feel your feelings. My wisdom flows from the Highest Source. I salute that Source in you. Let us work together for unity and love.”

Finally, and personally, I believe this is the work of the church.  The church must express at it’s very foundation the commandment to do unto others as you would have them to do you.  We must show the love of Christ to our neighbors, even the one’s we would rather not have over to dinner.  Peace begins with us.

May the Peace of Christ be with you.

 

Gregory Peck, Mary Badham

Making Sense of it All

I’m trying to make sense of all of this.  I’m trying to understand what is going on.  The more I try, the more concerned I become.  Every day I read articles from a variety of news columns to try to understand how people are seeing the world, and more importantly to try to identify with how readers who only read one perspective may be seeing the world.

This morning I read these four articles, each providing very different perspectives.  While their individual opinions are worthy of discussion, what I care more about is how we as citizens, who have different opinions can have civil conversations on these different opinions.  I want a real conversation without name calling, eye rolling, or sensationalizing.

We need to understand each other.

Here are the four articles I read today. Notice how  they are written.  Notice the audience they believe is reading the article.  Think critically about each article.  What do we learn about the writer, the reader and the world, by reading these four articles?  What do we learn about ourselves?

Could we pull these opposing articles out and have a mature conversation about what is going on in the world?   Can we read these articles and not getting angry, emotional, or defensive?  Could we work together to try to make sense of it all?

The first article I read was by Keith Ablow from Fox News:

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/01/27/dr-keith-ablow-whats-really-going-on-in-trumps-mind-hint-its-not-what-think.html

And then I read this article by David Brooks from the New York Times:https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/27/opinion/the-politics-of-cowardice.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fdavid-brooks&action=click&contentCollection=opinion&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collectionolit

 

 

Then I read this article by Newt Gingrich from Fox News:

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/01/27/newt-gingrich-left-should-be-scared-to-death-after-trumps-first-week.html

I finished my Saturday morning circuit with this article by Jim Wallis:

https://sojo.net/articles/christians-call-speak-truth-alternative-facts

If you have read all four of the articles by now, you are probably not interested in reading further.  So I will end here and say that I think we need to force ourselves to read and engage in conversations with opposing points of view.  We have to try to understand each other.  If we don’t, we are just screaming into the wind.

We must seek first to understand than to be understood.

We the People: The Greatest Gift in 2017

“It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union…. Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less”
Susan B. Anthony

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The most surprising thing has happened.  The most unexpected little gift has occurred. The most quiet, spark of light has come through.  In the midst of the most controversial and unsettling political era of my lifetime, I have received a gentle gift.

It’s a gift that easily slips away, if I’m not careful.

The gift is, I have fallen in love.

I have fallen in love with the country  in which I live.

I confess that  I have taken her for granted.

It’s the gift of heart-swelling patriotism for its history, its ideals and its beauty.  Who would have thought that such a tenacious and brutal election season, would stir up such deep patriotism?

Webster Dictionary defines patriotism as simply “love or devotion to one’s country.”  Notice that  it is not defined as having pride in one’s country, or believing that one country is better than another’s.  Patriotism is not elitism. Patriotism is not nationalism. Patriotism is more about serving than being served, just like falling in love.  Because when you fall in love, you would do anything for the one you love. – Remember?  Remember falling in love with your sweetheart? How you would do anything to help your beloved – bring him cookies when he was studying, bring her flowers when she was sad? – You were their love-sick servant.

Patriotism is that deep devotion that is not interested in arguing. You can’t argue about how much you love someone, you just take care of them, support them, honor them and make sure they are o.k. Putting it simply, Theodore Roosevelt said,  “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

This does not mean that we are perfect.  The people we love, are not perfect and neither is our country. We fail, let it each other down, sin, and forget. We mess up.  And when that happens, leaders show up who set us on the right path.  They remind us that “the greatest thing we have to fear is fear itself”  (FDR).

They remind us to come together.  Perhaps the bravest speech of all time,  were these words given to us when we were the most fragile: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” – Abraham Lincoln.

Patriotism is not love of party or a particular person.  It cannot be bottled into one particular point of view.  It is more patriotic to honor another person’s point of view than to dishonor it by discounting it. In other words, if we all come to the table with the same love and devotion for our country, we can start healing.  But we must see the other person’s patriotism equal to our own.  Nobody owns the corner market on patriotism.

I have decided that worry does not serve me, and more importantly it does serve my country.  Fear does not honor the people who fought for the values upon which we stand.  Anger does nothing for the ideals of this land.

But love and devotion, love and devotion, deep gratitude and a willingness to serve and rise up – this is patriotism and it matters.

For the next 100 days, and the next 100 days after that, I’m going to focus on what I love about this country.  I am going to focus on all of things that I have taken for granted and be grateful for them. I am  going to make sure I am part of protecting them and ensuring that they are not dismantled.  Instead of feeling anger or fear or arguing about numbers or pictures or who is right and who is wrong, I’m going to look for the good and try to make it better – for as long as I have breath, this is my promise and my pledge.

THE BILL OF RIGHTS

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

 

WRITER’S BLOCK

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Matthew 4:12-23

12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

18As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Something happened this week,  something that has never happened to me before.  I had a serious case of writer’s block.  I take great pride in my discipline and efficiency in making sure I have a first draft sermon written no later than Thursday afternoon.  This week, I did what I always do.  I studied scripture, read articles, read the news, read commentaries, all the things I normally do, and  yet I could not begin to write –

 I cast my net into the sea of language and  pulled up no words. – Nothing.  Part of the reason is that it’s the end of January and I’ve preached one, too many weeks in a row and we have been working pretty much nonstop since October – but that’s normal, par for the course life in the church.   It’s normal to getting to the annual meeting after a month of starting up the calendar year after all of the work of Advent and Christmas, and stewardship campaigns, and fall programming, to feel like your gas tank is running on empty.

There was something more.  I kept throwing my net over, asking God to help me, give me a word, and again, nothing.  Thank God for the great gift of procrastination.  – There is always laundry to run, or a room to pick up, or an email to respond to,  or the news to read, and best one of all… Facebook.….  I would find myself distracted in the deep waters of the unknown.  There’s always another article to read, or another post to see, or a video to watch.  There is always another person writing an offensive thing about another person to make another person feel good, another person feel bad, and then with that one little post, the world becomes more broken than it already is.  There is always one article, or editorial saying we are right and they are wrong to be followed by another article saying, no we are right and they are wrong.  Which leads me to think there are too many words out there already, and nobody is listening. So what’s the point of writing?  I think the only point, the only reason to keep writing, is knowing that our kids are watching – and if they see that it works to be obnoxious and make illogical statements and that being shocking works, and that’s not acceptable. –And so I don’t give up and I think maybe God has a word for us in all of this mess and  so I take out my net and I throw it over to catch some words, and again my nets come up empty.

There was something more. And this is probably the biggest, most honest reason of all that no words came to me this week.  If you want to be a faithful preacher and write effective sermons you have to do two things well – you have to exegete -that means study scripture and you have to exegete the congregation. – A good preacher knows their congregation and what I know, or deduce is that our mainline congregation is just like most church’s in this country – except for those congregations that are on the extreme left and extreme right and that is that is this:

Some of us really, really hate Donald Trump and some of us really, really hate Barack Obama and some of us really, really hate those who hate the other, and some of us really, really hate those loser liberals and some of us really, really hate those close mind conservatives, and nothing, nothing, nothing will convince us that we are wrong and they are right, and why can’t they just see how clearly wrong they are, and what’s the point?

And the preacher is left thinking, “Good Lord.”  ” I can’t say the words  ‘live into hope’ or ‘this is going to be huge’ without sounding political.” Everything sounds political.

We are a microcosm of our society and our society is bleeding internally and as a long we blame each other for the bleeding and not all take responsibility for it, the bleeding will not stop.  So, I go again, and cast my net into the sea to look for a word that can heal and unite and not sound biased, but rather sound hopeful and I throw it over, to catch some words, and again my nets come up empty.

There is something more.  Disciples of Jesus Christ have long gone fishing and found their nets coming up empty.  All three synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke tell the story of the soon to be disciples out on the water, casting their nets into the sea and discovering that they come up lacking.  You remember this story – Jesus comes to the seaside looks out and calls to Peter and Andrew and says, “follow me and I will make you fish for people” and then an amazing thing happens, they drop their nets and follow him.   They surrender.  They stop trying to have control over their lives and their understanding of the world and their way of life, they put down their nets and they follow him- and they follow him with a new thing to catch and that is people.

I think if we are going to heal as a society, that is what we all have to do.  We have to drop our nets, let go of our own words and rhetoric, and start catching people- not just the people we like and agree with, but all people – because people are people and Jesus does care one iota who you voted for.  Jesus cares, who you catch.  If we follow Jesus, we have to put down our nets, meaning our agendas, our power and follow him  in order to catch people.

Now Matthew explains what he means by catching people, he says, they went into the communities and cured the sick and proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God.

Now, what in the world does that mean in 2017?  It means that God is bigger than politics.  It means that while presidents come and go, along with elections and inaugurations, God remains: the inauguration of God’s Kingdom irreversibly changed the world. As Matthew introduces the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he quotes Isaiah: “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” The light of God dawned on all God’s children when God’s Kingdom was inaugurated, back there at the Sea of Galilee.

I was reminded of Samuel Johnson’s couplet: “How small, of all that human hearts endure, that part which laws or kings can cause or cure.” Columnist David Brooks makes the comment that, most of the things that make our lives worthwhile and meaningful do not have to do with politics. They have to do with relationships or beliefs or virtues.  They have to do with our life stories, our kids, our grandparents, our grandchildren.  They have to do with meals around the table, and days at the beach, and books that we read, and stories that we share, and people that we love.  They have to do with  ways in which we come together as a community after a tornado hits, or an accident happens, or a child gets sick, or our neighbor gets cancer and suddenly who cares about politics, because people are people.

So I put my net down again and ask God to give me a word to say to you today, and after prayer and angst and impressive procrastination and even tears, it is  simply this:  love people more than politics.  Care more about people than politics.  That’s it.  Love people more than your own opinions.  See people before you see party.   Put down your nets and follow him.  Be brave enough to tell people the Good news – what’s that you ask?

The Good News is this: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him will have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

The Good News is this: “Jesus said, come to my all who weary and are heavily burdened and I will give you rest.”  (Matt 11:28)

The Good News is this:  “My 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; do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

The Good News is this: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and God is love.  He that loveth not, loveth not God, for God is love. Beloved, let us love one another.” (1 John 4:7-8),

These words have nothing to do with a political party, and they have everything to do putting down your nets and following Him.   These are the words that I have caught for you today.  What you choose to do with them, is up to you.

May the peace of Christ flow through you today.

May the peace of Christ sustain you tomorrow.

May the peace of Christ carry you always.

Amen.

The Wolves We Feed: A Reflection for Inaugeration Day

creating sacred communities

wolf-2Do you remember this Cherokee parable?

A grandfather is talking with his grandson and he says there are two wolves inside of us which are always at war with each other. 

One of them is a good wolf which represents things like kindness, bravery and love. The other is a bad wolf, which represents things like greed, hatred and fear.

The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second then he looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?”

The grandfather quietly replies, the one you feed.

January 20 has become a date that many of us are excited about and many of us dread.

It’s a day that all Americans take pride in, as we celebrate the mark of a peaceful transition from one leader to another. It’s democracy in all of its splendor.

It’s a day of parades and music and poetry.  It’s a day…

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The Wolves We Feed: A Reflection for Inaugeration Day

 

wolf-2Do you remember this Cherokee parable?

A grandfather is talking with his grandson and he says there are two wolves inside of us which are always at war with each other. 

One of them is a good wolf which represents things like kindness, bravery and love. The other is a bad wolf, which represents things like greed, hatred and fear.

The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second then he looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?”

The grandfather quietly replies, the one you feed.

January 20 has become a date that many of us are excited about and many of us dread.

It’s a day that all Americans take pride in, as we celebrate the mark of a peaceful transition from one leader to another. It’s democracy in all of its splendor.

It’s a day of parades and music and poetry.  It’s a day that marks a transition into a new era.

It’s supposed to be a day to feel good about being an American, and for many. many people it will be just that. They will feel very proud and excited and hopeful. It will be a great day.

For others, the day will be a day of fear and uncertainty. It will not be such a great day.

For others, it will be neither a good day or a bad day, but a”wait and see day,” a “give him a chance day.”

It would be great if we all had the same day on January 20, if we all felt equally excited and hopeful. But we know that is not going to happen. We are a divided nation and we really don’t want to try to understand each other.  We really don’t want to take Atticus Finch’s advice and walk around in another person’s shoes.  We are too angry to even try.  We are too angry for the past eight years for failed promises and hallow speeches.  We are too angry at the rhetoric that offends and divides.  Which ever side we are on, the last thing we want to do, is try to understand the other person’s point of view.  But, I wonder, if we could be brave enough to try?  I wonder if we could love our country enough to try to heal it?  I wonder if we could all try to feed the same wolf?

Every single one of us, regardless of our political persuasion has these two wolves living in us.  No one person gets through life without both wolves sleeping in our psyches.  When the wolves wake up, we have a choice of which one we feed.  We alone have the option to be feed fear or bravery.  We have the choice between feeding hatred or kindness.

It’s in us to decide the kind of people we want to be and how we are going to live and treat each other in this world.  We can choose to feed kindness, bravery,  and love, but let it be known that you have to choose to feed it. It’s a choice we make every day. If you do not feed it, it will starve.

I believe that most people, are genuinely good at heart. I believe most people  love their kids and  love this country, and want it to be a country that stands for liberty and justice for all…..We all just may not like each other…but we can still choose to be kind to each other.We may not share the same values, but we can find a way to respect each other in our differences.

We  have to have enough self-resolve to feed the wolves we choose to feed.  No one makes us feed hatred, we choose that. No one makes us feel afraid, we choose that.  No one makes us feel greed, we choose that.  We can choose another path.

If we want to feel better on January 21, we as nation have to decide which wolf we are going to feed.

No matter how you feel on January 20: overjoyed or overwhelmed, that is your truth, and it has value and it matters.

But also know this truth, and be equally proud of this;  it’s a truth we all share:

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.

 May it be forever so.

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The Park Bench

park-bench-resized-600John 1:29-42

29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

I would like to begin this morning by asking you to shut your eyes and imagine something for a few moments.

Just sit back in your pew, close your eyes, take a breath and imagine you are sitting on a park bench, outside on a warm spring day.

Imagine that someone comes and sits beside you.  You look over and you see that this person is Jesus.

What does he look like to you? There are no right answers.

How do you know it’s him?

Do you feel nervous sitting next him?

Do you reach over and hug him, like you are greeting an old friend?

Do you feel angry sitting next to him and start asking him questions, like, “how could you let that happen?”

Do you see that it’s him, feel so uncomfortable that you get up and walk away? – Hoping that he did not recognize you?

Do you sit in silence next to each other, knowing that you know each other, but choose to sit in comfortable silence?

How do you approach Jesus? 

O.k. you can open your eyes.

If you did this exercise every day, or once a month, or every now and then, or even every morning and night, you would find that every time Jesus comes and sits next to you on that bench, that you would respond differently.  Sometimes you may know him well, sometimes you may not know him at all, sometimes all you will want to do is weep and ask him to take away the hurt, and sometimes you will feel so much doubt, you will want to get up and walk away.  While you may change your behavior when you go through this guided meditation, what does not change is that Jesus always comes and sits on the bench.  He faithfully comes and sits and waits and we respond.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus comes and John the Baptist introduces him, not only to the disciples, but to the readers in the Book of John and indeed to the world. This is how Jesus comes on stage in the Gospel of John – John the Baptizer sees him coming down the road and says, “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of this world.”

He doesn’t say, “Behold, my cousin, Jesus!”

He doesn’t say, “Behold, the Messiah!”

He doesn’t say, “Behold, the King of Kings and Lord of All!”

He introduces Jesus to the world as “the lamb of God.”  First observation: Jesus is not of this world. He is the lamb of God. So the first thing people are asked to see when he comes and sits on their park bench is that he is from God, that he is of God, that he is God.

Now, what is even more difficult to get our heads around is the second part of the sentence. After John says, he is “the lamb of God,” he says why he is here. John the Baptist says,  “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He did not say, “behold the lamb of God, who will make you happy, rich, or successful.”  He said, he is the one takes away the sin of the world.  The sin of the world.  Now just think about that.

There has been a critique, and I think it’s a fair one, that churches don’t like talking about sin any more. It’s not a good way to fill a church. It’s not good for PR.  And if we are going to talk about sin, well, we should talk about the sin of others and not our own.  And yet, every week as Presbyterians we begin faithfully with a prayer of confession acknowledging both our individual and corporate sin.   But I think we often leave that confession tightly in that place and then move on with our lives.

Think for a few minutes about the enormity of the sin in the world. Think about all of the cruel things people have said to each other just these past months either on social media or directly.  Think about the way we have been treating our brothers and sisters.  Think about the atrocities of the human race around the world. Think about the pillage of our earth.   The weight of sin is so heavy upon us, it’s almost suffocating.  It’s enormous.  Now, this is our time and place, but make no mistake sin and evil was just as powerful 2000 years ago, and in that moment Jesus appears and John says, “Here is the one who will take away the sin of the world.” 

Why didn’t John say,  “Behold, the Lion of God, who takes away the sin of the world?”

Wouldn’t a lion be a better animal to take on sin and mangle it to bits?  Wouldn’t it have been smarter to describe Jesus as aggressive and sort of like a vigil anti.  – Maybe I’ve seen too many movies, but making Jesus a lamb – doesn’t that sound…. weak and powerless? –  I mean; this is the sin of the world we are talking about.  Do we really think that a lamb can take on ISIS?  Could a lamb take on the Nazis?  Could a lamb take on the KKK?  Well sure, a lamb could take them on, but he’s going to get himself killed!!

The next day, the would be disciples are curious about John the Baptist’s introduction and they come to Jesus and he turns to them and asks, “what are you looking for?”  and they say, “Rabbi” which means teacher.  He then asks, “where are you staying?”  and he invites them to “come and see.”

Now if people of don’t like talking about sin, the only thing they dislike more than that is talking about evangelism.  We really worry about offending people by “pushing our faith on others.”  Put it this way, we are sitting on a park bench with Jesus and a friend comes by and sits next to us  and instead of introducing our friend to Jesus, we choose not introduce them to each other.  Jesus, whispers in our ear, “I think I could help out here…” and we choose to ignore him.

Out of fear of offending our friend, we offend and pretend like we don’t know Jesus.

Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Now Jesus gives us three actions for how to introduce people to him safely. He asks the question, what are you looking for, and the disciples answer “a teacher,” and then they ask,  “where are you staying?  And Jesus replies, “come and see.”

If you know someone who is lost in their faith, or lost in sin, or lost in the world, and you think that if they knew Jesus or had a measure of faith, they might be less lost, but you don’t know how to invite them, ask them this question, “what are you looking for?” It’s a safe, open ended question.  Take the time to listen to their answer.  Sometimes we are so caught up in our stuff, that we don’t stop and really ask the question of ourselves, “what am I looking for?” and then once you identify need, stay with Jesus, the lamb of God,  follow him to find the answers.

Recognize friends, that the way you answer that question, is your deepest prayer.  It’s your soul’s deepest desire to ask and its Jesus’ deepest desire to know.

Take a minute to try to answer that question – What is it you are looking for?

Is it peace?

Is it hope?

Is it justice?

Is it forgiveness.?.

The truth is, we have enough lions in our world. We have enough roaring and aggression and violence.  We don’t have enough lambs.  We don’t have enough gentleness, compassion, empathy and kindness. And if we believe in the lamb of God, we must believe that he can overtake the sins of the world, and he does so through the scandal of grace. We don’t have enough people willing to sit on a bench. willing to listen, and not judge, willing to stay with us, and help us find what it is we are looking for.

Evangelism is as easy as sitting on a park bench with someone you love or don’t know and letting them tell you what it is they are truly looking for, and loving them enough to help them find the way.  Little did you know, that you were being Jesus on the bench.  You sacrificed your time, yourself, your energy, your love for the sake of another person.  It’s that easy to be an evangelist.

Close your eyes, one last time. Imagine that you are sitting on a park bench on warm spring day, and someone comes and sits beside you.  You look over and recognize that it is Jesus.  What does he look like?  You turn to him and he recognizes you.  He asks you, “what is it you are looking for?”  Take some time this morning to sit in a quiet space, stay with him, and tell him what you are looking for….

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, 
have mercy on us. 

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, 
have mercy on us. 

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, 
grant us peace, grant us peace. 

Amen.

1

Trust

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We have lost something as a society.  We may not want to admit it, or believe it, but it’s true.  We do not trust each other anymore.  We do not trust our neighbors, our leaders, our institutions, the newspapers.  Case in point, the word for 2016 was “post-truth,”  narrowly beating “fascism.”

There is a lament, a cry, in this statement, because we believe that we used to trust each other.  We used to believe fundamental truths such as,  “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.”  Does that truth still apply in our society today?  

We used to stand for the American flag, put our hands our hearts, join together in song.  Even if we disagreed with a policy or a practice, at least we would all stand together as a community at the ball game and claim a unified loyalty.  Lately, some athletes and others have chosen not to stand, causing a stir in the media. The choice not to stand feels disrespectful and insulting to the rest of us who are standing, but more than that, not standing is a symbolic act that says, “I don’t trust you.”

We used to have a common enemy that we could all rally behind, like Russia.  If we didn’t trust or like each other, at least we could all agree that we really didn’t trust Russia.  Having a common enemy at least brought us a sense of unity.  Having someone to trust less, helped us trust each other more.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).  Those who claim the name Christian  today have very different understandings of what Jesus meant in this statement.  Today, those who identify with the Christian faith, have taken this statement and have turned into a message of warning, instead of as a message of hope.  Within the large umbrella of those who claim the name Christian, there is a deep mistrust.  This fracture of mistrust provides evidence to those who have left the church and affirms their decision that they did the right thing in leaving.   “Who would want to be part of that mess, when I can just find God on my yoga mat and be accepted for who I am?”

If a religious organization, institution, country, family, any system has lost trust, then the system has collapsed and it is vulnerable to false prophets, (as lamented by the prophet Jeremiah,) false teachings, (as warned by Paul in Corinthians), and false hope, (as spoken against in the Gospels.)

What is required to regain a lost trust?  

First, we have to admit that we don’t trust each other.  Let’s just get that on the table and deal with it.

Second, we must have the desire to trust again.  Look, if we don’t want to trust each other, then we won’t. If it serves us to fear each other, then we will keep fearing each other.  We have to choose to trust each other. We have to want to believe that people who see the world differently than we do are still people. We have to see each other.

But just having the desire to trust is not enough.  We must know the truths within us – the fundamental values that define us as individuals. If we believe that Jesus said to love God and love our neighbor,  and if we believe that to be a fundamental truth, then why don’t we act like it?   If we believe that, “all men (and women) are created equal,” then why don’t we act like it?  We cannot expect society to act one way, if we are not willing to behave in the truths that define us as individuals.   What is your truth?

We must hold each other accountable. If we hear hatred, bigotry, dishonesty and cruelty, we have to speak up and speak out.  Part of trust, is loving each other enough to say, “That’s unacceptable. You are hurting our society. You are pouring words into the impressionable minds of our children, and they trust you.”  When we give adults permission to be cruel and do not hold them accountable, we are telling our children that it’s o.k. to be rude, hurtful and even violent.  Part of being a trusting community is holding each other accountable. Speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)

If we are going to trust again, we need to forgive each other.  We need to be humble enough to ask for forgiveness and generous enough to forgive.  We must see the hurt we have impeded on each other and start to slowly, faithfully, work towards reconciliation.  Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,  and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:31)

It took us a long time to get this  broken as a society.  It will take a long time – perhaps a life time to begin to trust again, and perhaps admit that the trust we thought we had was a falsehood.  If  we are going to heal, we have to begin to be willing to trust.  It begins with one small step at a time.  It begins with one neighbor reaching out to another neighbor, one community, reaching out to another community, one stranger, opening her door to another stranger.  It will not be resolved on social media. It will not be resolved in the halls of Congress.  It will only be resolved one person at a time.  I believe we can heal this country. I believe we can trust each other.  I believe we can love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  I believe love always wins.  I believe we can get there — even if it takes a life time.

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
Fred Rogers

 

Epiphany

hike“Christ has no body now, but yours. No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks compassion into the world. Yours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world.” ~Theresa of Avila

We have become numb.

Our brains hear  words and see  images, and we know we should feel outrage, sadness, anger, and we have experiences so much of it, that we no longer respond.  We don’t move.  We feel helpless, confused, disconnected.

Here is the Epiphany we have all experienced:

We thought we were one kind of country, but actually, we aren’t the country we thought we were.  We are not all on the same page.

We have made assumptions about who we are and what we believe and now we look around at our fellow citizens, some friends, some family and we realize we see the world so very differently.  There has been a light shown on a truth we were all too naive to see, or did not want to see. The truth that we do not see concepts of democracy, freedom and human rights in the same way.  The truth that we are more divided than united. The truth that we don’t trust each other. The truth that we are not all on the same page when it comes to words like “tolerance, justice, and equality.”

These are the epiphanies we must face.

We cannot deny that a Light has shown on the darkness. Do we believe that the light can overcome it?

Only if we, ourselves are the light.  We cannot rely on some magical, ethereal light to show up and make it all better.  If we want the world to be better than it is today, we must not be afraid to be the light in the world.

What does that look like?

We must start seeing each other as Christ sees us. We must stop putting people in categories of liberal, conservative,  uneducated, educated, poor, rich.  We must keep shining light on things we don’t want to see or hear. We must not be afraid to shine light in the darkness.

Be the Light of the world.

Where there are dark places, be the light especially there. Be the salt of the earth. Bring out the true flavor of what it is to be alive truly. Be truly alive. Be life-givers to others. That is what Jesus tells the disciples to be. That is what he tells his church, tells us to be. Love each other, heal the sick, raise the dead. Cleanse lepers. Cast out demons. ~ Frederick Buechner

The world has been dark before, and there have always been those willing to shine light even in the darkest places.

Somehow, during the Nazi occupation of Poland, someone managed to scrawl on the external wall of the Warsaw Ghetto:

I believe in the sun, even when it does not shine.
I believe in love, even when I do not feel it.
I believe in God, even if I do not see him.

In our own national experience, in the midst of legally mandated segregation and deeply embodied institutional and social racism, Christian preachers such as Martin Luther King Jr. rose up, not only to challenge the law in acts of courageous civil disobedience, but also to challenge African American people to remember who they were and whose they were.

And the result—someone managed to write the lyrics, “My Lord! What a morning, when the stars begin to fall.” “Go tell it on the mountain.” “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.”

And James Weldon Johnson’s powerful words, “Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven sing, ring with the harmony of liberty. Let our rejoicing rise—high as the listening skies. Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.”

Let us refuse to be numb. Let us refuse to be indifferent.  Let us refuse not to speak up and speak out. Let us get up to a high mountain and claim, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you” (Isaiah 60:1).

Arise. Shine. Let us be on our way.