A Maundy Thursday Litany

A Maundy Thursday Litany
Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

Across the millennia
our ancestors of the faith call out
to each of us:

Eat.
Drink.
Immerse yourselves in the love, they remind us.

Across the millennia
our descendants of the faith
reach out to hear a word
about the Table:

Eat.
Drink.
Immerse yourselves in the love, we remind them.

Across the millennia
our ancestors and descendants
join us tonight:

We are one people
gathered together in the present, in the past,
and in future.

We are one people.
We are called to love
as Jesus loved.

Jesus is here.
Now.
Always.
Forever.

Jesus is here.
in the past,
in the present,
in the future,
and outside of time.

Come to the Table.
Listen to the voices.
Remember and be changed. Amen.

___

Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

 

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Dreams & Temptations

Dreams & Temptations

Words of Wisdom: I Have a Dream (video)
Sacred Words: Matthew 4:1-17
___

So why do you think it is that we can’t seem to achieve the vision of Rev. King’s dream? We all desire a world in which people are “judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Admittedly, we’ve made progress but the events of this past year would indicate we still have a ways to go. But even taking race out of the scenario altogether, and looking at interpersonal relationships right here in Condon, it’s clear we have a ways to go before, in the words of Rev. King, “…we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. [and that] … we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together…”

I think our passage from Matthew gives us a hint at our human journey of learning to get along. Matthew’s two-thousand year old interpretation of who Jesus was, reveals that not everyone was good at avoiding temptations then, anymore than now.

This passage comes immediately following the baptism of Jesus in which, “…he immediately came up out of the water. Heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting on him. A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.” (Matthew 3:16-17 CEB)

Matthew through this story reveals that Jesus is God’s son…but the original hearers need some evidence, too. Matthew is like an attorney building a narrative about who his client is, in this case the anticipated savior.

And so, to help us see that Jesus is special, the writer of the gospel tells us the Holy Spirit led Jesus to the wilderness to be tested. And Jesus remains focused throughout the forty days on following the divine dream for his life.

Jesus does more than avoid evil — for these temptations aren’t really all that evil — he avoids temptations that any one of us could rationalize ourselves into doing. We could easily convince ourselves that they are the right thing to do.

Consider, Jesus is in the wilderness for forty days. His blood sugar level had to have dropped to dangerous levels by the second day. Would it have killed anyone if he’d turned a few stones into bread? It probably would’ve helped Jesus to keep his strength up for his work. Nope, not evil to eat. Also, not God’s plan as Matthew describes it.

Jesus remains focused and resolute. This man that Matthew reveals in the temptations narrative, is the messiah for whom the people had been waiting. After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.” (Matthew 4:5-6 CEB)

I imagine if the people had witnessed angels lifting Jesus up so he wasn’t injured, they’d have been pretty impressed. I think if we saw something like that we’d be pretty impressed, too, and might be more faithful in following Jesus’ teachings. Isn’t that a good thing?

Ah, but again Jesus remains resolute and focused on God’s dream for his life.

Jesus, Matthew tells us, is not quite the kind of messiah the people were expecting. Jesus will not be a conqueror of Rome. As the story unfolds we will learn that servanthood trumps violence every time.

Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8-9 CEB)

What if Jesus had become the ruler of earth two thousand years ago? I can’t imagine that the world would be any worse than it is now. Jesus would’ve prevented a lot of wars and strife. But as I’ve already mentioned, Jesus is not the military messiah that the people yearned for.

And so the gospel writer we refer to as Matthew interprets Jesus’ life for us through this story and those that will follow in the rest of the gospel. Servanthood reigns in God’s realm, in the kingdom.

Jesus is focused on God’s dream for his life rather than on his own ideas for how to fix the world. Jesus, keeps his eyes on the prize.

***

But I promised at the start that Matthew’s version of the temptation of Christ would help us understand why we’ve not achieved Rev. King’s dream and why we can’t quite get along as a human family — even in Condon.

It’s like this, avoiding evil is easy, avoiding grey-area temptations is not. The real challenge is following God’s dream for us.

Jesus avoided each of the grey-area temptations that the Devil offered keeping his focus on God’s dream for his life. We, on the other hand, fail to keep our eyes on God.

As I’ve reflected on this passage and the I Have a Dream speech, it occurred to me there are three general categories of people who want to follow Jesus. Though, it’s true that we probably bounce between these categories (the hopeful, the faithful, and the risking dreamers), I think this continuum helps explain our relationship with God’s dream for us.

This slide was a part of the sermon, "Dreams & Temptations" preached on January 18, 2015 at the Condon United Church of Christ.
This slide was a part of the sermon, “Dreams & Temptations” preached on January 18, 2015 at the Condon United Church of Christ. The content is the property of Tim Graves. (Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The hopeful.

They follow the rules. They avoid evil. That’s easy enough. They hope for a better world but generally they define that as a peaceful world for themselves and their friends and family. The hopeful don’t do much unless it directly impacts them. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good people. It’s just that, well, rules! Oh, yeah, and not everyone is worthy in their eyes.

Their biggest weakness is they think God will do it all if they just believe enough.

The faithful.

They avoid many of the grey-area temptations, not just the evil. They know that a better world will only come if they consider others when they’re tempted. They never knowingly do something that harms others but they don’t always go to the trouble of knowing. The faithful work at being good people. They genuinely ache when they hear about the massacre in Nigeria or hungry children in Appalachia.

Their weakness is that they often hesitate to give up enough for their faith. “I can’t do it all,” while true, too often becomes an excuse for remaining comfortable.

The risking dreamers.

They live their lives as God dreams. They take risks for God’s realm (the kingdom) every day of their lives, believing that is the unfolding of God’s will that will bring a better world. In every moment, the dreamer considers what the most loving thing is and they do it, whatever the personal risk.

The risking dreamers work at being spiritually-attuned. That is, they know that in order live as God desires them to live, they must focus on the divine. They know that the divine is often found in the places and among the people that society rejects.

They’re not afraid of risking for God’s dream, knowing that within it they will find joy and satisfaction. God leads, they follow by acting.

***

According to Matthew, Jesus followed God’s dream for his life. He starts in the wilderness by rejecting what by human standards might have been good choices — eating, demonstrating his worthiness to be followed, and leading a benevolent kingdom. 

And then he began his sacrificial ministry of abundant love. Jesus is a risking dreamer.

We, on the other hand, spend most of our lives bouncing between being the hopeful and the faithful. It’s not that we’re bad people. On the contrary we are good people trying to do our best but we’re missing the point.

It is God’s dream that we were created to fulfill.

Jesus is the one who models for us how to consistently focus on God’s dream for humanity.  Jesus shows us the way to be risking dreamers. When he was hanging on the cross, what did he do but pray for his persecutors?

We’re not Jesus but there are some ordinary folks who spend more time in being risking dreamers than others.

I think Rev. King risked much to live as God intended for him but he, too, was human. He, too, spent time in the faithful and the hopeful. Like you and I, he sinned.

We have saints in the history of this very church who have spent time taking risks for the furtherance of the realm of God in Condon. We have saints who were risking dreamers: spiritually attuned, listening to God, and acting not as they thought best but as God thought best.

Building this building in 1957 was a risk and needed at the time. Giving away land for the memory care center was a risk.  Leaving the comfort of our eastern Oregon wheat fields to advocate for justice in Salem and in DC was a risk. Calling and accepting a gay pastor in this church was a risk…and you did it a very long time ago.

Some of you, may have taken some risks to live God’s dream but you like me, probably spend more time being hopeful and faithful instead of taking the risks God has laid before you.

Our task. Our task as imperfect human beings is to strive to spend less time in the hopeful and the faithful categories. Our task is to be more like Jesus — not Jesus, we can’t pull that one off — but more like Jesus.

Our task as followers of Jesus is to:

  • work at our spirituality: praying, studying the holy Bible, and sharing our gifts — financial and otherwise.
  • be and act the most loving in EVERY moment — whatever the personal risk.
  • take risks for God’s realm and give up our infatuation with human culture and worry about what others will think.

Jesus, who risked what was ultimately his own life, shows us the way. Jesus, who died on the cross, also rose from the dead because God’s love is that big! What are we afraid of?

In the words of Jesus, Therefore, don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31,33 CEB

Amen.

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Right-Handed Privilege

Right-Handed Privilege

family photo focus 2I bought a new camera earlier this year. The body of the camera fits my hand so that I can hold it and click the shutter with one hand: my right hand. When I ordered the camera, I did not specify that I am right-handed nor did I seek out a right-handed camera. It never even occurred to me that the camera I ordered would not be easy to handle and use.

I am the beneficiary of right-hand privilege. I didn’t see it when shopping for my camera. I didn’t even think about it because as one of the 70% to 90% of human beings who are right-handed, I can take for granted that my handedness is considered. My value as a right-handed American has never been questioned. As a child, no one tried to change me and make me left-handed.

My right-handed privilege allows me to assume that services and products are designed for me. The intrinsic message is simple: right-handed people are the right kind of people. Left-handed people are, well, not quite right.

***

Privilege identifies a particular set of characteristics in human beings and systematically (and often invisibly) favors people with those characteristics.

As a person who was born with and into a family with many of the characteristics of the unspoken ideal (e.g.; male, light skin, hetero, American of pre-Revolution British descent, currently-able, thin, Christian, etc.), my identity has been affirmed by images and culture throughout my five-plus decades on this planet.

Confronting personal bigotry is about identifying in ourselves our own biases toward others and choosing to act differently. Confronting our privilege is about accepting that though we did not choose it, we benefit from having any of the unspoken, “right” characteristics.

Confronting our privilege is listening to our kindred who do not possess as many of the characteristics as we possess. It is to believe the stories of our human kindred who suffer the flip side of our privilege. When we earnestly confront our privilege, we will taste the pain of our earthly peers. To confront our privilege is not easy but it is the loving thing to do.

For those of us who claim to follow the teachings of Jesus, to listen, believe, and work for systemic change is to give our faith healing arms and legs. When we confront our privilege, we journey with Jesus to the margins of our society.

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Related 

Condon & Ferguson: A Response

Quick to Listen

Quick to Listen

The first major decision I made was racist.

A young white man in his twenties, I was going to change the world. The new director of an urban early childhood program dedicated to providing services within a multiracial, multicultural, mixed-economic setting, I was passionate about the mission. Giving my confession of faith in a storefront church with a strong emphasis on inclusiveness and educated in the St. Louis city and Ferguson-Florissant school districts, I was not a novice to racial tensions.

Still, the first major decision I made was racist.

When you’re white you journey through life assumed by our culture to be a worthy human being. My experiences with racial conflict in the late sixties and seventies, while upsetting and confusing for me, were still experienced through the lens of a white child. In my church I was blessed to have an African-American man, whose weekday ministry was about healing racial strife,  mentor and help me to process and understand race during that turbulent era. Looking back more than four decades later, I see the divine breath moving in our weekly conversations.

The pie is big enough for all peoples. It is time for those of us who are white to  respond affirmatively to the divine encouragement to let go of our control of the pie, of our privilege, so that all might live in safety and security. Photo by Tim Graves
The pie is big enough for all peoples. It is time for those of us who are white to respond affirmatively to the divine encouragement to let go of our control of the pie, of our privilege, so that all might live in safety and security. Photo by Tim Graves

Still, the first major decision I made was racist.

Part of the problem is that I still understood racism in personal terms. I made a racist decision, not because I intended to favor a white employee at the expense of black employees, but because my white lens filtered out the experience of my African-American staff. Personal prejudice did not cause me to make a racist decision. Not understanding the systemic and institutional nature of racism, caused me to make a bigoted decision. The inability to perceive the whole picture particularly the role of power and privilege within which I was operating, caused me to make a racist decision.

Still, the first major decision I made was racist.

I’d like to be able to report that I was able to effectively and quickly fix my mistake. I cannot. The damage was done. I had stepped in the proverbial doo doo and early in my tenure I lost some credibility.

I was fortunate, however, to have a United Way representative — who herself was African American — help me to understand the significance of the mistake I made. I also was able to seek out an African American colleague, the director of a sibling early childhood program, a former professor specializing in racism, and several of my staff members. All were extremely patient with me. I am grateful for their help; they were under no obligation to teach me.

Still, the first major decision I made was racist.

As a result of that decision and other experiences I grew in my understanding and awareness of racism. I learned to accept the racist thoughts and impulses within me that are a part of growing up white in America. (Awareness of my shadow feelings, helps me to guard against acting upon them.) I made better, though imperfect, decisions after that day. I continue to learn about the insidious character of racism.

***

More than four decades later, I am no longer an active early childhood educator. I am the pastor of a small church in a tiny frontier town in eastern Oregon. By my count, we have no people of color within the membership of the church and less than a handful of African Americans among the 650 souls who live in our town.

During my nineteen months serving this progressive church, I have preached only twice about the injustice of racism. (This is a luxury that white pastors in white settings have which pastors of color do not.)  The first time followed the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case and the second was in response to the shooting of Michael Brown by a white Ferguson, Missouri police officer.

Two weeks ago when I preached about the sin of racism, a couple of individuals pushed back against my words with examples of individual African Americans acting in prejudicial ways. This is not an unusual response among whites. It reflects a personalizing of racism (which is really about power and systems) and a failure to hear the voices of our oppressed sisters and brothers.

A recent tweet that crossed my feed implied that Progressive Christians are all talk and no action regarding racism. Sadly, I think there is too much truth in this perspective. In my case, I’ve talked about racism only twice in nineteen months. No actions have been forthcoming from my community of Christians.

It is time for substantive action to end the institutional racism that results in the shooting of young black men. Those in the African American community cannot be expected to wait one moment longer for change.

Nonetheless, as a white pastor in a white community, I know that until whites admit that racism is real, they will not be a part of a solution. In ignorance, we will continue to make racist decisions until we listen and believe the lived experiences of our sisters and brothers. We must pay attention to the teachings and modeled life of Jesus: we must hear the cries of the marginalized and oppressed! Then, we must confess our past sins, personal and collective. When that happens, I am convinced that we will respond affirmatively to the divine encouragement to let go of our control of the pie, of our privilege, so that all might live in safety and security.

Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen [and] slow to speak…
James 1:19 CEB

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I Am the Gate: An Ash Wednesday Reflection

I Am the Gate: An Ash Wednesday Reflection
I Am the Gate. Photo by Tim Graves.
I Am the Gate. Photo by Tim Graves.

By the sweat of your face you will eat bread—until you return to the fertile land, since from it you were taken;  you are soil, to the soil you will return.” (Genesis 3:19 CEB)

On Ash Wednesday we recognize our human mortality. But sometimes we say ashes to ashes and dust to dust (or in this case soil to soil) to imply that we are dirt, that we are worthless. When we say that we came from dust and return to dust what we are really implying is that we are interconnected with the earth beneath our very feet.

We are part of the wholeness that God creates. To suggest that we are dust is to suggest that even the dust is worthy of the love of God. We are integrated into creation not separate from it.

***

Sin. We also focus on sin on Ash Wednesday but I think we misunderstand. We think of sin as something we’ve done wrong when sin is by definition not a mistake but a separateness from God. And so in this passage from John, Jesus offers us a way out of sin.

He is more than the image of the shepherd who cares for us and gives us personal salvation, though he is all that for Christians. Jesus is the signpost pointing us toward the One who loves ALL people, the One who loves each of you.

So Jesus spoke again, “I assure you that I am the gate of the sheep. (John 10:7 CEB)

Jesus is the gate. For his followers Jesus is the opening through the 12-foot concrete fence topped with barbed wire that we have constructed to separate ourselves from God. Jesus is the gate which swings wide so that we can find green grass and abundant, life-giving streams.

And, so, because Jesus points us toward God we do not have to sin. The promise of the shepherd means that we do not have to be distant from the One who loves.

Amen.

I Give Up My Ground to Stand with Jesus

I Give Up My Ground to Stand with Jesus

Stand your ground laws favor aggressive behavior. In this way they are reflective of much of our American culture of bravado and violence. They are not reflective of Jesus’ teachings. Regardless of their intent, which I perceive as dubious, the implementation of these laws are racist in result. 

As a follower of Jesus, I made a commitment not to American culture or capitalism or even to democracy. My faithfulness is to God. I am committed to trying to live consistent with the teachings and model of Jesus. And so I choose to stand with Jesus rather than unjust laws.

“But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well. If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks and don’t demand your things back from those who take them. Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.
(Luke 6:27-31 CEB)

 

Being Remembered

Being Remembered

Listen here or read below.

Molly was just a kid. She didn’t know why the bitter cold Chicago wind blew through the holes in Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 7.23.23 PMthe side of her dilapidated house. Molly didn’t know that not everyone had rats mating in the rafters above their beds at night. Maybe the other kids huddled around their wood stoves in one room because it was too cold to be in the rest of the house.

They didn’t say.

She only knew that the other kids laughed at how she dressed in hand-me-down pants, thrift store tops, and old lady shoes her aunt got her for free.

A twinge of guilt comes over Molly when she thinks about the time she dropped an open can of peaches on the floor. Her mother was soooo angry. Her mother said, “Molly! You careless child! What were you doing? You dropped the last can of fruit we have!”

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Sarah could feel the disapproving eyes on the back of her neck when she swiped her Oregon Trail card to pay for the groceries. Then it was the tap tap tap of the well-dressed professional woman’s fingers on the counter…

The tapping cut into her very soul as Sarah dug for and counted out pennies to buy a twenty-five cent candy for her three-year-old.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

At forty-five Delia still struggled to have a normal sex life with her husband. Bob was a good man but he didn’t understand why she sometimes cringed when he came up behind her too quietly and touched her shoulder.

Delia didn’t like surprises. She’d had too many of those from her mother’s boyfriends when she was growing up. Some of the boyfriends were nice and never touched her but Mom seemed to have a knack for finding the wrong man.

There was one boyfriend who moved in for two years. He seemed to take pleasure in coming to Delia’s room every night after Mom was asleep.

Delia didn’t feel safe during the daytime either. He would shove himself up against her while pretending to give Delia a fatherly hug. He would do it while Mom was making dinner and give Delia a look that dared her to say anything.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Frank had good days and bad days. Folks in town didn’t understand why he went through stretches of time — especially in the winter — when he never stopped in at the pub for a beer with the boys. His wife grew impatient with his seeming inability to do anything around the house.

She told him to get his lazy butt off the couch but putting up the storms just seemed like an impossible task.  Frank couldn’t explain why he had no energy. No pep. No desire. Frank just knew he was depressed. It took every ounce of energy he had to go to work at all.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

***

It seems kind of odd to have this passage in the lectionary on the Sunday before Advent. Why would we want to look at Jesus dying on the cross? It’s not like we even get the resurrection. We just get a depressing story of the One the disciples thought would restore Israel, hanging on the cross between two criminals.

Today, the last Sunday of the liturgical year is traditionally marked as Reign of Christ Sunday, sometimes it’s called Christ the King Sunday. As someone who has a low christology, meaning that in my personal faith, I relate to the human Jesus more than the divine Jesus, . . .

I’ve often found this special Sunday of the liturgical year to be less meaningful than others. The imagery of a king does not speak to me. I know it holds great meaning for others but for me, not-so-much.

Raised in a denomination that grew out of the American frontier, I find it hard to think of Christ as king. Christ as guide, that’s cool. Christ as teacher, that works. Christ as model, absolutely. Even Christ as companion works for me.

But I struggle with the concept and image of Christ sitting on a throne with a crown and scepter. Perhaps I’m too egalitarian, too ingrained in our American experience in which leaders are elected.

And, so, perhaps I’m more fortunate than the disciples when I try to understand this passage from Luke in light of Christ the King Sunday. Unlike the disciples, both the apostles and the other loyal followers of Jesus, I understand that Jesus is not a king in the ilk of David. He’s not a king who will restore the earthly kingdom of Israel.

Now…Like you, I know the rest of the story. This king — this messiah — who comes to us as an itinerant rabbi, who eats with tax collectors and the oppressed is not gonna kick Herod’s tooshie back to Rome. For the apostles and other disciples, the cross was a shock! The king to whom they and we claim allegiance, is dying on a cross unable, in the words of his tormentors, to even save himself.

What does this pericope, this section of Luke’s gospel tell us about the king we call savior? What do we learn about the kingdom of God, about what I call God’s realm?

First, we know Jesus is not going to kick Rome out of Israel. Jesus’ kingdom, God’s realm is not a military power. Of course had we been listening to Jesus as he wandered the countryside, we would know this already. As Nancy Lynne Westfield points out,

Jesus spends more time talking about the Kingdom of God than any other topic or issue…Jesus spent much of his ministry describing the kingdom of God as having different rules and different expectations from the rules and laws and penalties of humanity. (Feasting On The Word, Kindle loc. #12487)

Second, Jesus doesn’t stop thinking about and caring for others — for us — even as he is dying.

 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Luke 23:34a CEB

 I confess that when I am suffering, even if only from a nasty cold, I am less empathetic and less concerned about others. It’s not that I’ll cease to care about you when I’m under the weather but I am less likely to think about you. It’s not something of which I’m proud but it is true.

In Jesus, however, is a ruler who despite torture, beatings, mockery, and certain death prays for his enemies as he is dying at their hands. The Realm of God is a place of undying love. It is a place in which we are all beloved of God.

Third, we learn in this passage that God in Jesus remembers every single one of us. We learn that even a criminal who in his own words is “rightly condemned…[and] receiving the appropriate sentence for what [he] did” (Luke 23:41 CEB) is beloved by God!

Notice the sequence of events between the criminal who asks,

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t require a catechism class. Jesus doesn’t require recitation of a creed. Jesus doesn’t require the criminal to say, you are the only way to God. He doesn’t require the “correct” theology or that the criminal join the UCC. Jesus doesn’t even require baptism.

What Jesus does is, he responds immediately saying,“I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43b CEB

We learn that God’s Realm is open to the most incorrigible, those who have committed heinous acts, to mothers who scold children who drop peaches, to child abusers, and impatient professionals in the grocery line.

God’s Realm is open to each and everyone of us. Grace is grace is grace is grace.

 Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

*** 

Molly’s mom was doing the best she could to hold the family together. Food was expensive and they had very little. She felt so guilty every time she thought back to the day she reamed Molly out for spilling those peaches.

It was just so hard to make ends meet. They were on food stamps after she’d been laid off, they were out of cash, they were out of everything…and it was still three days until her Oregon Trail card would be reloaded.

She wished she could tell Molly how sorry she was for that day, but she was just too embarrassed and too ashamed.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Phyllis was in such a hurry that day but she had to run into the market for just a few things. She got in a slow line and then — THEN — the woman in front of her whips out her Oregon Trail card. “Must be nice,” thought Phyllis. I have to make ends meet AND pay for her!

The woman in front of her looked so much more “put together” than Phyllis felt. Phyllis wished she could be casually doing the groceries with her children. She wished someone else would pay for her groceries.

Instead she was on the way to a high-pressure meeting.

Phyllis didn’t realize until the woman was on the way out the door that she’d been tap tap tapping her fingers on the counter.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Joe was in prison. He’d gotten sloppy. He’d molested the wrong child and he’d been caught.

Joe had found Jesus in prison. A lot of folks thought it was a ploy to get parole sooner. They didn’t think he was sincere.

Though Joe still had desires for kids, he understood that it wasn’t ok behavior. Joe was genuinely sorry for what he’d done through the years. Anyway, Joe found Jesus in prison. And he realized that regardless of what he desired, it was a sin to act on it. He realized that it was wrong to hurt others.

He also knew that though he didn’t deserve it, Jesus forgave him. The prison chaplain called that grace.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Finally, after three years of his friggin’ laziness, Frank’s wife kicked him to the curb. He just laid around the house. She couldn’t get him to even go out for a beer with his friends let alone take her out dancing or put up the storm windows.

Someone suggested he was depressed but she knew better. Frank was just a lazy good-for-nothing and she threw him out.

She wasn’t sorry either. She had to take care of herself. She had to start living her own life.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

***

We are all sinners. Sometimes we ask forgiveness. Sometimes we know we should ask forgiveness and we don’t. Sometimes we’ve hurt others and we don’t even realize it.

Always God loves us. Always God nudges us, trying to get us to listen and change. Always God pushes us to forgo judging and empathize with others. Sometimes we do. Sometimes we don’t.

Always God loves. Love doesn’t give up. It doesn’t say, “yes, but”. It encourages us to right behavior. It nudges us to mimic Christ.

But always Love forgives. Love is grace.

We’re often uncomfortable with this kind of grace, this kind of love. It seems so impractical and over-the-top. We want to set boundaries for love. Writes Nancy Lynne Westfield,

This kind of forgiveness is a challenging notion for many of us. Part of our inability to believe and trust the forgiving power of God’s grace and mercy is our inability to believe that other people deserve mercy. We want to judge whom God lets into heaven. (Feasting On The Word, Kindle loc. 12492)

But in the unfolding realm of God, we are called to live by different rules. In the unfolding realm of God, we are all beloved.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

[And] Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43 CEB

Amen.

***

This sermon was preached by Tim Graves at the Condon (Oregon) United Church of Christ on November 24, 2013. Tim took the SNAP Challenge during the week prior; he was on the final day of the experience on the day he preached this sermon. The text for the sermon is Luke 23:33-43.

SNAP: Ouch, Ouch, Ouch

I came across this blog from Rebecca Barnes, who is also taking the SNAPChallenge this week. She is including her family in the experience. I teared up reading this c

omment from her blog,

Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 7.27.16 AM“Last night, I actually pretended I couldn’t read my sweet girl’s pantomime of wanting a drink from the snackbar, during her second game of the evening for which she was working hard as a cheerleader. I thought, I should have made her take a water bottle. I should have planned better, even though earlier she said no, she didn’t want to take her water bottle. I can’t afford to go buy her a drink. But, she’s standing there, thirsty, and I’m looking away. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.”

I’m not teary because of this child; we know that the SNAP Challenge her family is taking is a contrived learning and advocacy experience. I cry because too many mothers and fathers and too many children live like this every day in the wealthiest nation on the planet.

“Which father among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? If a child asked for an egg, what father would give the child a scorpion?And, that, THAT is a sin for which we are collectively responsible. Luke 11:11-12 CEB

When we place mothers and fathers in the position of giving their children scorpions when they need fish, we sin. We live in the wealthiest country on the earth. When children are hungry, we have failed. All of us. We have all sinned.

Related Articles
Opening Our Hearts to the Hungry, Condon United Church of Christ website
SNAP Challenge, um, Maybe Not Today 11-19-13
SNAP: Getting Serious, Getting Anxious 11-20-13
SNAP: The Veggie-Noodle Balance 11-21-13
SNAP: The Glop That Plops 11-22-13