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.

Here Comes Trouble!

After several sermons in a row in which I challenged the congregation, I was ready for a lighter sermon last week. It was not to be. Through Luke 12: 49-56, the Holy Spirit seemed to push me to address white privilege with even more vigor than I had just after the verdict in the killing of Trayvon Martin. Click below to hear the words that crossed my lips.

If you prefer, download the file here or read the prepared (not delivered) text of the sermon below.

___

Where does Jesus get off? Where does he get off calling us hypocrites? It’s not like he’s Mister Perfectly Consistent!

First, we get all this lovey-dovey “love your neighbor as yourself” crap and then he starts into this “I’ve come to divide.” Then he has the gall to call us hypocrites!

If he wanted trouble, he’s got it. Consider:

The prince of peace that we were so excited about at Christmas is all grown up but something must’ve gone wrong because he says,

 “I came to cast fire upon the earth. How I wish that it was already ablaze!” (Luke 12:49 CEB)

Oh, yeah. That’s peaceful! That’s kind. That’s loving. Mister Consistent Peace-man wishes the earth was blazing in fire.

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled! (Hark, the Herald Angels Sing)

 Reconciled? Reconciliation? Then why does the all-grown up Jesus say:

 “Father will square off against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother; and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:53 CEB)

That. That doesn’t sound like reconciliation to me.

<SIGH>

I don’t mean to diss Mary. She was a cool enough Mom. She was young and I’m sure she did her best.

And from what we can tell Joseph — who by the way didn’t even have to be there — it wasn’t his kid — did the best he could. He took that poor fatherless child in, raised him as his own.

But sometimes, no matter what you do your kid makes some serious wrong turns. Your child doesn’t turn out like you expected.

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord. (O Come, All Ye Faithful)

I was right there with y’all last Christmas. I was right there adoring the baby as he slept in heavenly peace. But I’m done.

I’m done with this savior gone wrong.

I suppose I’d feel more empathy for adult Jesus if he was trying to be a peacemaker. He’s unapologetic about how he’s turned out.

He seems, well, almost like he’s proud of being a troublemaker. Did you hear what he said? This cocky, unapologetic Jesus says,

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, I have come instead to bring division.” (Luke 12:51 CEB)

***

[PAUSE]

On its face, today’s gospel reading from Luke seems extremely inconsistent with everything we know about Jesus from our holy scriptures. But what Jesus is really saying is not that he wants division but that — as a result of his ministry — “Here comes trouble!”

Writes scholar Audrey West,

…It is not Jesus’ purpose to set children against their parents, or parents against their children, but this sort of rupture can be the result of the changes engendered by Christ’s work. (FOTW, Year C, Vol. 3, location #13026)

In other words people may resist. People may divide themselves.

In the modern church, we’ve forgotten that to follow Jesus means that things will get stirred up. But we like the status quo and the status quo doesn’t like to be bothered. The status quo defines peace as, well, as things staying the same.

In the modern church of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries we want things to be happy. We want peace without conflict. We want joy without pain.

We want growth without growing pains.

But as scholar Richard Carlson writes,

“Jesus has not come to validate the social realities and values we have constructed. Such social realities and values have a propensity to seek a harmony that favors those who hold positions of power at the expense of those who are powerless and expendable. Jesus’ missional agenda of compassion, mercy, and justice shatters such a status quo.” (FOTW, Year C, Vol. 3, location #13138)

***

Let me tell you a story. This is a human story. It takes place within the democratic education community in the United States but it is happening within other groups in other places as well including churches. This is a story among the folks at the US version of the international conference at which I recently spent a week.

About four-years ago I noticed that the old-guard, the folks who I affectionately called “old hippies” were feeling threatened by the younger teachers and leaders coming up within democratic education.

At the annual conference, which, incidentally, my son incidentally, a young African American man from Chicago, Matthew, was the keynote speaker. Some folks got very upset when Matthew suggested in his keynote talk that many democratic education schools were elitist in the sense that not just anyone could attend.

“Well, we don’t keep anyone out!” was the protest.

“Yes, you do,” Matthew replied. “Those of you who are private schools keep most brown and black people out because of money.

You need to do more if you want to be truly democratic.”

His point? Democratic education is not accessible to all. It is not democratic in its availability.  It is largely a white, upper middle-class phenomenon. When those who support democratic education abandon the public schools to create their own system, they are abandoning the poor, people of color, and other marginalized children.

A big brouhaha broke out in the ballroom with folks lining up for their turn to speak at the mic. I would summarize the message of many of the “old hippies” this way:  “I’m not a racist.”

Matthew could have described his role at the conference in the words of Jesus:

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, I have come instead to bring division. (Luke 12:51 CEB)

Matthew challenged the systems of racism that allowed many white, middle class children to participate in democratic education while brown and black children were left behind in public schools.

He suggested that the well-intentioned “old hippies” were part of the problem when they abandoned the public schools.

[pause]

The trouble with racism is, it’s not just about personal racism. It is about a culture that privileges some people over other people.

I consider myself a fairly enlightened guy but I have benefited because of the color of my skin. You have as well. You didn’t ask for it. I didn’t ask for it. We didn’t ask for that privilege but it’s real.

This is the kind of thing — though not specifically racism — that Jesus is talking about in today’s reading when he calls the people hypocrites. I think Jesus might have been feeling a little frustrated at the willful ignorance of the people.

Jesus also said to the crowds,

“When you see a cloud forming in the west, you immediately say, ‘It’s going to rain.’ And indeed it does. And when a south wind blows, you say, ‘A heat wave is coming.’ And it does. Luke 12:54-55 CEB

I can imagine people listening shaking their heads saying to themselves,

“Yeah, we can tell when a storm is coming in.” Then, as they’re shaking their heads feeling pretty good about themselves, Jesus shouts:

“Hypocrites!” (Luke 12:56a CEB)

Are you blind to what else is going on? If he was talking to us he might say, do you not see that a few powerful people control the economics of this country?

Do you not see that brown and black people do not share in the privileges that you have? Even those of you who are less well off have advantages not afforded most brown and black people?

For those of us who are white and those of us who are relatively well off — some in this room do struggle financially by the way — but as long as we’re white, we can ignore the problems of race and class in this country and world.

We can take the easy path and ignore what the racial profiling of people means. We can ignore what Hal, an African American man who works in a state level job in Vermont told me. Hal told me that the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case has the resonance of a Challenger explosion or the Newtown shooting within the African American community.

Within that community it is another example of the dehumanization of their young men. It is another example of our culture considering their children as expendable.

And in Condon and other white communities across the nation we had our opinions about it. We may have even talked about it for a week or so but then we began the “forgetting about it” process.

We looked the other way and suggested it was an aberration, a tragedy that doesn’t happen every day.

Unfortunately, it does.

Unfortunately, while we’re looking at the sky, interpreting dark clouds as meaning rain is on its way, we fail to interpret other signs around us.

According to Bible scholar David Schlafer, our ancient kindred, those Jesus was talking to, failed to take responsibility,

“for learning from the rich and readily available tradition of Law and Prophets that would enable them to identify commonwealth resource mismanagement  — what we’d call economic injustice — and its inevitable negative repercussions in God’s economy.” (FOTW, Year C, Vol. 3, location #13138)

We fail to take the responsibility to learn from social science, from our history, from a little ol’ thing called the Bible, and from the experiences of our contemporary sisters and brothers.

We fail to learn about and work to eradicate the racial, economic, and class injustices in our country and world.

In terms of race, we say we want Martin Luther King’s dream but we don’t know what to do or…OR…we’re not willing to do the hard work it will take to finally reach it.

And, so, like those Jesus calls hypocrites, we know how to interpret weather conditions but somehow we’re oblivious to racial and economic injustice.

We are the twenty-first century version of the hypocrites Jesus is calling out in the twelfth chapter of Luke.

***

The Good News is God created each of us as growing and learning human beings. The Divine’s loving, creative power does not give up on us. We have a choice.

The extravagant and relentless love that overcame death at the cross, forgives us and keeps calling to us to be a part of the unfolding realm of God on earth.

The unfolding realm of God’s abundant, beloved community is an expanding circle of burning love for one another.

The Good News is that the fire Jesus came to cast upon the earth has begun to burn within our hearts.

It is a fire that cleanses without incinerating, and drives us to be God’s loving hands and feet of justice in a wounded world. It is a fire that will unite the oppressed, the marginalized, and even the oppressors together as one human family.

May we be the people God created us to be. May we actively listen to God and expand the circle of love and justice outward until all are truly welcome in this place.

May we give up hypocrisy, pull our heads out of the sand, for the good of others.

Amen.

Service of Scripture & Prayer (In Empathy & Solidarity with the People of Boston)

Service of Scripture & Prayer (In Empathy & Solidarity with the People of Boston)

Service of Scripture & Prayer

In Empathy & Solidarity with the People of Boston

Condon United Church of Christ

April 19, 2013

The stained glass window at Condon (Oregon) United Church of Christ. Photo by Tim Graves
The stained glass window at Condon (Oregon) United Church of Christ. Photo by Tim Graves

The People Gather

Prelude When Night Becomes Dark (Taize Community)

Call to Worship (Please say responsively)

L: We gather this evening to express our anguish and horror at what our sisters and brothers are experiencing in Boston. Connected as one human family, we feel their fear, their anxiety, and share the urge to hold our children and one another tightly.

P: We are speechless and horrified by what has become of our world and our nation. 

L: Our Lord and Savior, too, experienced grief in our human condition saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that. Luke 13:34 CEB

We gather in the presence of friends and neighbors to console one another and to reach across the continent in prayer and solidarity with your people in Boston.

Invocation (Please say together.)

Make yourself known in Massachusetts, in Texas and Florida, in Oregon and every place in between. Heighten our senses that we might focus on your love that transcends evil in this world. Remind us tonight that we are one human family across the globe. Amen.

The People Express their Woe to God

Music In Our Darkest Hour (Taize Community)

Ancient Words of Terror

My whole body is completely terrified! But you, LORD! How long will this last? Come back to me, LORD! Deliver me! Save me for the sake of your faithful love! I’m worn out from groaning. Every night, I drench my bed with tears; I soak my couch all the way through. My vision fails because of my grief; it’s weak because of all my distress. Get away from me, all you evildoers, Psalm 6:3-4, 6-8a CEB

Silent Prayer

Response (Please say together.)

   Lord have mercy upon us.

   Christ have mercy upon us. 

   Lord have mercy upon us.

Today’s Words of Terror

L: We stare at the television, yearning to know what is going on in the East. Our anxiety grows and we wonder, “could it happen here?” We empathize with our those in Boston. while the announcers speculate and chatter.

P: The announcers seek to explain but it is inexplicable how one of our fellow citizens could blow up children and runners. We don’t understand; we’re afraid. We hear the words and see the pictures from our homes. 

L: We went about our daily routines while our kindred were confined to their homes for fear of a young man’s anger. We’re afraid. We feel the terror of a world filled with anger and hatred. Hear these words from Facebook, from a daughter talking about her mother in Cambridge, Massachusetts:

“My mother, who is 81, lives in Cambridge, just a few blocks from Memorial Drive. Some of last night’s events happened near her home. She’s at home, with food and water and is “fine”. But on the phone with her this afternoon, she started rambling about cars that have come down her street sounding funny (one of which she reported to the police), about how it feels like during WWII when there was a neighborhood air raid warden who would come around to check if your black out curtains were letting any light out, about how many suspects there are and where they are (not agreeing with the news coverage). And alot more.

It brings home to me how HUGE a shock it is to have this attack happen. Mum can ramble some, but it was much worse this afternoon – a sign of how this is really affecting her, even though she is safe. Feels a little like the canary in the mine – we are all affected, but it just shows in different ways. Let us all be extra kind to each other, reach out to our Boston friends and family, and remember our elders – who may be having flashbacks to another time of war..…”

P: The safety, the security, and all that we thought was possible within the borders of our great country have once again been shattered by hatred and violence. We weep as children and runners are victims of gun violence and bombs.

Silent Prayer

Response (Please say together.)

   Lord have mercy upon us.

   Christ have mercy upon us. 

   Lord have mercy upon us.

The People Plead for Help

Ancient Words of Pleading

LORD, hear my prayer! Let my cry reach you! Don’t hide your face from me in my time of trouble! Listen to me! Answer me quickly as I cry out! Because my days disappear like smoke, my bones are burned up as if in an oven; my heart is smashed like dried-up grass. I even forget to eat my food because of my intense groans.  My bones are protruding from my skin. I’m like some wild owl— like some screech owl in the desert. I lie awake all night. I’m all alone like a bird on a roof. All day long my enemies make fun of me; those who mock me curse using my name! I’ve been eating ashes instead of bread. I’ve been mixing tears into my drinks because of your anger and wrath, because you picked me up and threw me away. Psalm 102: 1-10 CEB

Silent Prayer

Response (Please say together.)

   Lord have mercy upon us.

   Christ have mercy upon us. 

   Lord have mercy upon us.

Today’s Words of Pleading (Please say responsively.)

L: Enough! Put an end to this now we beg you, God. Enough is enough. We endured 9/11 and said, “no more.”

P: And yet there have been more.

L: Enough! Put an end to this now we beg you, God. Enough is enough. We endured the separation from our sisters and brothers as they fought for ten years in Iraq. We continue to endure separation from our sons and daughters as they fight in Afghanistan. We say “no more.” Put an end to this now we beg you, God.

P: And yet evil continues. Evil is still in our midst. 

L: Children are killed in their schools and at the Boston marathon. Our countryfolk huddle in their homes afraid to venture out. Our children are traumatized.

ALL: We don’t understand.

Silent Prayer

Response (Please say together.)

   Lord have mercy upon us.

   Christ have mercy upon us. 

   Lord have mercy upon us.

God Reassures the People

Words of Assurance

L: Though we live in a world in which it too often seems like evil has the upper hand, our holy texts remind us that this existence is temporary. Our Savior who roamed the countryside, the villages, and Jerusalem teaching and healing was rejected. He was killed on the cross by our ancient kindred.

P: All seemed lost.

L: Ah, but on the third day, when the women went to the tomb they found it empty. Our Lord and Savior lives! The extravagant love of our God is not contained by terror, by fears, or by hatred. The unimaginable and undeserved love of the One overcomes even death.

The apostle Paul writing to the Romans reminds us,

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;

we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39 NRSV

P: Praise be to God!

Hymn Amazing Grace #547

Scripture Psalm 23 NRSV (Please say together.)

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

Benediction

Postlude Make Me a Channel of Your Peace

Reflection: A Preamble & A Ministry

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) grew out of the American frontier in an era in which the suspicion of institutions was growing. In that respect, it is not unlike our current era. As people of faith our founders were suspicious of creeds that served as tests of faith. This rejection of tests of faith is a critical ingredient of our identity as a unique part of the body of believers and followers of Jesus. It is typical for Disciples to joyously share pews with others who have come to different conclusions about some specifics of the faith. We are stronger because of this divergence of opinions. We are a people living into a recognition that we need all parts of the Body of Christ.

As a lifelong Disciple, I approach even the Preamble to the Design of the Christian Church with suspicion that it may be a little too creedal. Yet, it is an accurate statement of what Disciples believe in common. As I reflect on the different parts of the Preamble and how they inform my ministry, please know that these are my thoughts and not necessarily representative of all Disciples of Christ.

Reflecting
 
The Preamble begins with a confession. This is significant not only in content but in form. We have all failed to live fully into the people God dreams we can be. I confess to God and to humanity that I have failed to live into that dream. I am too self-focused, too frightened, and too controlling to trust the Divine as fully as I am called. It is only through grace (undeserved forgiveness) that I am the recipient of God’s extravagant, unconditional love.
It is through Jesus that I, along with other Disciples, find the living God. For me, the image of a living God is the One who is active in the world, nudging us and luring us on the path toward the Kingdom. As our United Church of Christ sisters and brothers remind us God is Still Speaking. The living God feels our joys, our sorrows, and our frustrations deeply. 
It is the living God who cajoles me, pushes me, and lures me toward ordained ministry. It is the living God who demands of me that I share the joy, the contentment, and the restlessness for justice in witness and service to humanity. As the form of my ministry evolves, the profound pain, the deep woundedness of my fellow human beings demands that I express the living God’s extravagant love. This begins with confessing sins. I am called to confess personal sins, sins of my ancestors, sins of the Church, and sins of my generation. 
 
        Confession of sins is but the first step. The Creator’s covenant of love binds my ministry to others. I am not only bound to my fellow Disciples, or even just to fellow Christians, God’s covenant of love binds me to all of God’s Creation. I am bound to all of humanity, to the whole people of God. My call to ministry is bound to all who seek the Divine, by whatever name they call the Divine. My ministry is to those whose lives have been particularly severed by sin. (Sin is that which separates us from God and from one another.) The sin that separates them from the Divine and from others may be their own sin. The sin that severs may be my sin, it may be someone else’s sin, or it may be the systemic sin in which we all are entangled.
For Disciples, it is through baptism into Christ that we find newness, a life of re-presenting the Kingdom. It is as a follower of Jesus that my ministry finds Divine guidance and offers a glimpse of God’s emerging realm.  Yet, I acknowledge that human flaws require the saving acts of Christ. I am not alone. I am joined together with other Disciples, with other Christians in the universal church, and with others following different paths provided by the Divine One. Within the communion of the Holy Spirit I am joined by the whole people of God to bring healing, to bring a glimpse of God’s realm.
 
As I seek to yield myself to God, I perceive a special calling to those who have been wounded by the Church and to those who have never known or felt the abundant love of the One. As a follower of Jesus, my ministry, when true to the Holy Spirit’s prodding and coaxing is a witness and service to the whole people of God. As a follower of Jesus my ministry, when true to God’s abundant, unconditional love provides a glimpse of God’s healing of a fragmented world and what God dreams we will become.
Blessing, glory, and honor
   be to God forever. Amen.