Nevertheless, She Persisted

Text Mark 6:31-34 & Mark 7:24-30

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  • I love my dog.
    • under covers
    • kiss his head
  • Dogs were not pets
    • “Dogs, a highly insulting name, dogs were regarded as shameless and unclean” (Jewish Annotated NT)
    • rats?
  • Region of Tyre
    • Gentile area bordering Judea
    • “potentially hostile”

Nevertheless, he persisted.

  • Meets Syrophoenician woman
    • Gentile?
    • approaching a man?
    • her daughter is sick

Nevertheless, she persisted.

The woman was Greek, Syrophoenician by birth. She begged Jesus to throw the demon out of her daughter.  27  He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Mark 7:26-27 CEB

  • Jesus says heal the Jews.
    • says in derogatory way
  • Possible interpretations of Jesus’ actions
    • ignore context and think of our own pets
    • misogynist
    • xenophobe “Make Judea Great Again”
    • testing her
      • hostile?
      • worthy?
  • seizing a teachable moment
    • use of “dogs” plays into Jews’ biases
    • good news is for all

He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Mark 7:27 CEB

We need to take care of Americans first. It isn’t right to take the bread and toss it to the refugees and immigrants.

  • Jesus has laid his trap.
    • On to him,
      • Nevertheless, she persisted.

“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Mark 7:28 CEB

  • Story has turned
  • Jesus reveals his point
    • Jesus heals her daughter
      • when she persists
      • tho she’s not Jewish
      • tho she’s a she
    • The kingdom of God is for everyone

and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. 31  The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31 CEB

***

  • Condon UCC criticized
    • too inclusive
      • LGBT
      • women
      • black lives
      • immigrants
    • too loving
    • not Christian

Nevertheless, you persisted.

  • Your faith is palpable
    • resist an inward focus
      • But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness… Matthew 6:33 NRSV
    • be active in your faith
      • My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? 
      • Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? James 2:14 CEB
  • You have big decisions & challenges
    • Nevertheless, you will persist.

I leave you with the words of the apostle Paul writing to the Philippian church,

I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now.  I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:3-6 CEB

Amen.

__

This was my final sermon at the Condon United Church of Christ, delivered Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017.

A Prayer for Today

Sacred Wholeness: 

Inspire our hearts, feet, & hands to be your expansive love in the face of hostility and hatred and fear. Help us to retain your essence of compassion and favor for those on the margins. May we embrace your calling of love and justice in “just such a time as this.” Amen. 

###

Related Scripture Readings
Luke 12:22, 25, & 31
Micah 6:8
Mark 12:30-31
Esther 4:14

How Long, O Lord? A Sermon in a Rural County Following the Election

Isaiah 6

We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. –Karl Barth

Election numbers

  • County 2/3
  • State 40%
  • National slightly less than 50%

Protests across cities

Fringe Trump supporters overtly threatening

We are a deeply divided people

Our hope that we would somehow magically come back together after Tuesday was naive.

***

Result of election of one who was openly

  • Racist
  • Misogynistic
  • Blamed immigrants and Muslims

Stories from circle re fear

Text: ”Half of this country just threw my life under the bus”

Election served as a trigger for sexual assault victims

Hateful “go home” notes left in people’s work mailboxes

Synagogues hiring security

Screamed at on way to work: “Trump! N****r!”

I spent much of Wednesday counseling, listening 

***

Others celebrate shock to polarized system

Needs have been ignored

Voting for him doesn’t mean you did so because racist

Some of you voted for him despite these things

***

View the world through the Bible,  faith, love

love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength…The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31 CEB

As followers of Jesus we are obliged to stand with those the powerful have attacked.

I sat down to write the scripture email late Wednesday. I came up with something not quite reflection.

I share some of that with you now:

***

“How long, O Lord?” asks Isaiah. “How long, O Lord?” must I fruitlessly prophesy to your people.

And God tells him that he must prophesy until the cities lay in ruins and the land lay devastated.

And, still, Isaiah goes where God sends him.

This is a discouraging story. 

The descriptions of the people turning away from living in accordance with God’s requirements,

their obstinate refusal to listen to the prophet warning of the pitfalls of their chosen path,

and, still the voice of Isaiah calling to them, is reminiscent of an apocalyptic movie. Love of neighbor be damned!

I have seen some horrible things as an educator and as a pastor.

I’ve been privy to some of the worst of what humanity has to offer.

I’ve often felt like following God’s requirements “to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 CEB) is futile.

Too often I’ve felt beaten down by shortsighted bureaucrats or politicians more concerned with bombing and killing others than feeding our own children!

My words of “you are God’s beloved” seem too little when the church — THE CHURCH! — spews hatred and rejects children of God.

In the face of an incoming president who has made fun of a disabled reporter, bragged about sexual assault, who has a racist history,

and who blames and threatens to discriminate against all Muslims — our sibling Abrahamic religion — all while claiming the Christian faith, I am discouraged. 

Does our faith even matter?  On the morning following the election I was counseling multiple people who are terrified that their rights are at stake now.

One young woman said to me, “I am scared for my personal safety!”

An individual one step removed from me was the victim of someone yelling, “Trump! N****r!” as he journeyed to work.

I imagine Isaiah saw some of the same underbelly of humanity happening all around him.

God does not seek prophets when humanity is loving neighbor and caring for the least of these (Matthew 25:44-45).

God saw the state of the world all too clearly in the time around King Uzziah’s death, in Isaiah’s time.

Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?” I said, “I’m here; send me.” Isaiah 6:8 CEB

Isaiah volunteered to take God’s message to the people!

His response reminded me of a little girl who, as Hitler was spreading through Europe, wrote in her diary:

“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart” (Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank).

Just as Isaiah responded to God’s call to a seemingly fruitless task, we must not give up on God’s call to be the realm of God in the world.

If we are to call ourselves Christians, we must stand on the margins of society as Jesus did.

We must strive to manifest the extravagant love of Christ.

We must protect the vulnerable even when others empower hatred.

[Isaiah] said, “How long, Lord?” And God said, “Until cities lie ruined with no one living in them, until there are houses without people and the land is left devastated.”  (Isaiah 6:11 CEB)

And I suppose there is the Good News:

Even when we don’t deserve it, even when the only thing that remains is a holy seed, God does not give up.

Amen.

How Long, O Lord?

“How long, O Lord?” asks Isaiah. “How long, O Lord?” must I fruitlessly prophesy to your people. And God tells him that he must prophesy until the cities lay in ruins and the land lay devastated. And, still, Isaiah goes where God sends him. (Read Isaiah 6 here.)

This is a discouraging story. The descriptions of the people turning away from living in accordance with God’s requirements, their obstinate refusal to listen to the prophet warning of the pitfalls of their chosen path, and, still the voice of Isaiah calling to them, is reminiscent of an apocalyptic movie. Love of neighbor (Mark 12:29-31) be damned!

I have seen some horrible things as an educator and as a pastor. I’ve been privy to some of the worst of what humanity has to offer. I’ve often felt like following God’s requirements “to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 CEB) is futile. Too often I felt beaten down by shortsighted bureaucrats or politicians more concerned with bombing and killing others than feeding our own children! My words of “you are God’s beloved” seem too little when the church — THE CHURCH! — spews hatred and rejects children of God.

In the face of an incoming president who has made fun of a disabled reporter, bragged about sexual assault, who has a racist history, and who blames and threatens to discriminate against all Muslims — our sibling Abrahamic religion — while claiming the Christian faith, I am discouraged. Does our faith even matter?  On the morning following the election I was counseling multiple people who are terrified that their rights and personal safety are at stake now. One young woman said to me, “I am scared for my personal safety!” An individual one step removed from me was the victim of someone yelling, “Trump! N****r!” as he journeyed to work on public transit.

I imagine Isaiah saw some of the same underbelly of humanity happening all around him. God does not seek prophets when humanity is loving neighbor and caring for the least of these (Matthew 25:44-45). God saw the state of the world all too clearly in the time around King Uzziah’s death, in Isaiah’s time.

Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?” I said, “I’m here; send me.” Isaiah 6:8 CEB

Isaiah volunteered to take God’s message to the people! His response reminded me of a little girl who, as Hitler was spreading through Europe, wrote in her diary:

“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart” (Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank).

Just as Isaiah responded to God’s call to a seemingly fruitless task, we must not give up on God’s call to be the realm of God in the world. If we are to call ourselves Christians, we must stand on the margins of society as Jesus did. We must strive to manifest extravagant love. We must protect the vulnerable now and especially if our president-elect continues to empower hatred.

Isaiah said, “How long, Lord?” And God said, “Until cities lie ruined with no one living in them, until there are houses without people and the land is left devastated.”  Isaiah 6:11 CEB

And I suppose that’s the Good News, even when we don’t deserve it, even when the only thing that remains is a holy seed, God does not give up. As faithful people we must not give up either.

David & Donald: Does God Use Imperfect People to Be Great Leaders?

Jerry Falwell, Jr. compared Donald Trump to King David in March of this year. Explaining his endorsement Falwell said,

“God called King David a man after God’s own heart even though he was an adulterer and a murderer.” (1)

Given the nature of political leadership, the argument that God uses flawed human beings for good, for God’s purposes is a legitimate topic. Did God use the extremely imperfect David for good? In our own time is God using another imperfect man, Donald Trump, for good?

***

Despite his reputation over the millennia as a great king, David was a human being. He was a sinner who did terrible things. From our twenty-first century vantage point he was despicable.

David lusted after Bathsheba who was bathing on a nearby roof, as was ancient custom. And, though, lust in and of itself can be a normal human response, like other men (and women) he did not have to act upon that physical urge.

One evening, David got up from his couch and was pacing back and forth on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful.

So David sent messengers to get her. When she came to him, he had sex with her. (2 Samuel 11:2, 4a CEB)

You might remember, this was no innocent hook up between consenting adults. This was a king who at best abused his wealth and power to have sex with a married woman or at worst raped her. Both interpretations can be legitimately argued.

David wasn’t done, however, with his despicable abuse of power and wealth. He covered up his actions by having Bathsheba’s husband killed! David used his power to satisfy his sexual urges at the expense of a woman and then abused his power as commander of the army to assure the husband died in battle.

God was certainly angry with David. God took his wives and gave them to others. God allowed the child born to Bathsheba to die. David was publicly humiliated as God took his patriarchal privilege away in a way that left him open for ridicule. God said,

“You did what you did secretly, but I will do what I am doing before all Israel in the light of day.” (2 Samuel 12:12 CEB)

What was David’s response when he was called out?

“I’ve sinned against the LORD!” David said to Nathan. (2 Samuel 12:13a CEB) 

A contrite David humbled himself before God. And God forgave and offered grace to David, to one who admitted his sin, humbled himself, and showed contrition. But God did not take away the consequences of David’s sin.

Because David admitted his sins and was contrite and received God’s grace, he became a great king. Though God would still love David whether he was contrite or not, it was his humble response and admission of his sin that allowed the God-David relationship to move forward.

Ultimately David will restore Jerusalem to the Israelites. Yes, God does use flawed human beings for good, for God’s purposes.

***

In our time we have Donald Trump, a financial king who would like to become the leader of his people.

Like David, Donald has a history of allowing his appetite for power and sexuality lead him astray. He was caught on tape belittling women, discussing sexual assault because, he bragged,

“…when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” (2)

What was Donald’s response when he was called out?

As accusations (and corroboration) from numerous women have surfaced about his abuse of power to sexually assault them, he has not confessed in anything near contrition. Instead, he has doubled down calling them liars. He has pointed his finger at others who have misbehaved as a five-year-old might: “Todd did it first!”

So, no. Donald Trump is not like King David.

Yes, David was an extremely flawed human being who went on to become a great leader. The difference, however, was that David admitted and confessed his sins when called out. David showed immediate contrition! He didn’t call Bathsheba names or point his finger at other leaders.

No, Donald is not at all like King David.

***

  1. http://www.christianpost.com/news/jerry-falwell-jr-trump-bible-king-david-a-man-after-god-own-heart-russell-moore-159143/
  2. http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2016/10/07/donald_trump_2005_tape_i_grab_women_by_the_pussy.html

My Trip to a Gay Bar (#OrlandoShooting)

Friends,

A couple of my high school friends were visiting me at college. They asked my not-yet-wife and I to go with them to the local gay bar. Though I don’t recall a lot of details I have memories of discomfort and vulnerability.

13413757_10209876016319664_3928409912324737014_nI had never before seen men openly showing affection to one another.

Yes, I knew my visiting friends were gay. My best friend, who would later be the best man at my wedding, had already come out to me. My faith built upon the teachings of Jesus who tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God and neighbor (Mark 12:28-31), had already allowed me to affirm a relationship that was kept closeted in the broader culture.

The biblical witness taught me that love is the core of the Christian faith. The Holy Spirit had already moved me to see that love might very well cross traditional cultural boundaries. Still, it took awhile for my gut emotions to catch up.

I suspect that is how it is with some even today, nearly four decades later. It is how I suspect it is for those who vehemently spew hatred toward so many of my friends, my clergy colleagues, and even my own firstborn child. It can be hard for emotions to catch up when you’ve been raised and taught in traditional ways of thinking.

The trouble with emotion-powered rhetoric regarding our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer kindred is that it can lead us to miss seeing the image of God in others. It can lead to violence toward others as it has too many times and in the early morning hours of June 12, it led to the massacre at an Orlando nightclub.

In my initial numbness, my spontaneous sobs, my deep desire to hold my children close, even my anger over this heinous act, I’ve thought about that night at a midwestern club. I went to that club because I knew it was important to my friends whom I loved. Looking back I see the Divine guiding me to overcome my discomfort and fear to be be present with my friends whose God-created sexuality was disdained by mainstream culture.

I did not yet know that the bars and clubs functioned as sanctuaries. I did not yet know that as one of my clergy colleagues wrote, “When churches would not let us cross their thresholds, the bars were where we held our memorial services and our weddings.” This shooting violated sacred ground as surely as the shooting at the AME church in Charleston did last year!

The arc of the Bible reflects a continuously widening circle of inclusive love. The narrative of Sodom and Gomorrah — despite what you may have been taught — is a parable about how important welcoming others is to God. Jesus regularly crossed the boundaries of ancient life, loving and eating with those his culture told him to despise. God still moves us to widen the circle of love.

In this era of alienation from the divine and one another, when politicians stir up hatred for their own ends, when violence seems impossible to stop, when even our own have too often turned to self-violence, we can make a difference.

We can open our hearts and minds, listening to other ways of thinking. We can choose to speak and act in loving and respectful ways about those in far off places and those we greet on Main Street. It really is that simple to change the world and be the people God created each of us to be.

Rev. Tim Graves
Pastor, Condon United Church of Christ

__

I sent this letter to my congregation and to the small town local newspaper.

I Beeped, He Flipped

I Beeped, He Flipped

From his perspective, I came from out of nowhere. He saw an opening and pulled his Jeep out of the center turn lane. That’s when he heard a beep, looking back to see the bright green car.

I turned into the drive lane from the side street. Assuming the Jeep in the turn lane would stay put, I accelerated. That’s when it  pulled out, nearly taking the front end off my car.

I beeped; he flipped.

He showed me his middle finger from inside his car. Going the same way,  I stopped behind him at the light. Apparently, not sure I’d seen his middle finger, he held it out his window.

I suppose I should have reacted so he knew I’d seen his finger. He pointed at me using the outside mirror and showed me his middle finger again. I didn’t react.

Red-faced, he energetically pointed at me and showed me his middle finger yet again. I didn’t react. He pointed and showed it to me a fifth and sixth time. Finally I understood. He needed some closure. I gave him what I hoped would be a submissive shrug.

That seemed to satisfy him.

***

Like the driver of the Jeep, we all want to be seen and heard. I could have felt threatened. (A small part of me did.) However, I chose to remain calm, mustering empathy. Like my companion driver, stressors can negatively impact my driving or my relationship with others.

I am thankful for the empathy that helped me perceive what the angry driver needed. In calmness and empathy, I saw the divinity within a sojourning human being.

___

Luke 6:27-31

Greater Than Fear & Annoyance

Greater Than Fear & Annoyance
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Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

I avoid her. I fear running into her at the post office or the grocery. She has a way of taking a chunk out of my spirit.

Just when you wanna hate people, though, they go and do something nice. Just when I’m ready to have nothing to do with someone, I become aware of their struggles and like the Grinch my heart grows three sizes.

In my small town there is a woman who feels I’m entitled to her opinion of my driving. In addition to my atrocious driving habits, I apparently pastor a not-Christian church. I need to know that, too. Apparently.

Emotionally it is easy to become annoyed with this woman. I don’t have any first hand understanding of her struggles. Nor has my personal driving instructor done something nice for me. However, I know she volunteers to do tedious work in our community.

People are complicated and messy. I’m sure she has challenges of which I’m unaware. Her behavior tells me that she does. Our “stuff” often spills over onto innocent people. As a local pastor, who won’t strike back,  I’m an easy target.

My faith tells me that we all hold the sacred within us. I can’t just write her off if I believe what I claim.When I remember this, I find my heart growing and softening. I’m more tolerant. I find ways to interact with her in love rather than mere tolerance.

I even find myself seeing the good within her. Love really is greater than fear and annoyance.