Sunday, June 10, 2018

Who is in Who is out - We are family - Mark 3:20-35

I open this reflection with a direct quote from sermon seeds a ucc online resource because it sums up all that is happening so well…
                               “This scene from the early part of Jesus' ministry, right after he has chosen his twelve apostles, feels almost as chaotic to read about as it must have seemed to those gathered around Jesus. It might be helpful to get a sense of how the Gospel of Mark itself feels--it's no leisurely story with nice, long sermons and extended conversations (think the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, and the woman at the well, or Nicodemus, in John). The Marcan Jesus is on the move constantly, like a man on a mission with little time to spare and even less patience with people who like to criticize everything he does.
We're only in the third chapter of Mark now, but a quick read of those first chapters is exhausting: Jesus has gone from his hometown to the wilderness to Galilee to the sea to Capernaum to a house to a deserted place and back out to the towns of Galilee (in just the first chapter) and then back to Capernaum and home, and then to the sea, and to Levi's house, through the grain fields and to the synagogue, and then back to the sea, into a boat, before heading up the mountain where he gathers those twelve apostles around him, and then, finally, he goes home.
Imagine all this travel with desperate crowds around him (people "from every quarter," 1:45), clinging to him, begging for healing, begging to be released from the demons that had hold of them, and then picture a group of carping critics picking at everything he did--breaking the rules about healing on the Sabbath, eating with tax collectors and sinners, and not fasting as they should. In other words, finding it more lawful to meet human need than to let human suffering go on unnecessarily: Jesus understood the heart of God's Law.
Of course, we can understand that the crowds couldn't help themselves: who among us would not do whatever it took to get our sick child, for example, to a healer who was doing the amazing things being attributed to Jesus? Still, it's poignant to see how Jesus couldn't even go home and have a meal in peace (a practice with much greater significance in that culture than we allow in our own).
In chapter two, people dig through his roof and drop a paralyzed person right next to him, hoping for a cure, and after admiring their faith and handling the criticism of the scribes when he forgives the man's sins, Jesus tells the man to get up and walk. That healing amazes the crowd, of course, and makes Jesus even more sought-after, but it really gets the attention of the powers that be, which explains why they're back again, all the way from Jerusalem, here in the third chapter, as Jesus tries once more to go into a house for a break from all this activity.
The problems with crowd control persist, so much so that Jesus can't even have supper with his friends, his disciples. But he isn't surrounded only by people who were willing to admit their brokenness and their need, along with those institutional critics who, we suspect by this time, are looking to find fault with Jesus rather than to affirm the wonderful thing God is doing in him. The growing crowd also includes, of all people, the family of Jesus: his mother and his brothers, who can't even get inside the house and talk to him face to face.”[1]

Now this brings us to the part that many just glance over or shrug off as ancient superstition.  What the ancient world viewed as demonic possession today we know as well other conditions. What was demonic then we now explain as deafness, blindness, epilepsy, mental illness, allergies.  Anything that could not be explained or understood the devil got the blame.
But the exorcism isn’t really the point.  The point is the power of sin isn’t going to cast itself out because it is doing the job of dividing a community, creating distraction from the truth.  The truth is “People will be forgiven their sins!”  Jesus is proclaiming forgiveness of sins and that is what truly has the scribes upset.  Without sin management, which is the business of the temple, we have no order.  We cannot proclaim who is with the in crowd and who is with the out crowd.
That brings the next part of the text…Jesus’ family. We do not know exactly what prompted Jesus’ mother and brothers to come and well, give him a talking too…but it may have been the stirring up of the crowds…it may have been the exorcisms… Jesus was changing the conversation around sin and heaven and well it scared some people and his family might have been just scared for him too. It may have been they felt he needed a break…we just don’t know.
But here in the midst of bickering and crowds and confusion and family trying to push in and other people probably yelling hey we were here first.  Your wrong about Jesus no your wrong about Jesus …Jesus heal me. Jesus teach me …in the middle of that confusion some one pauses and says hey Jesus your family is here…Jesus paused looked around him and said you are my family.  Right here, right now, you are my family ….” whoever does the will of God is my brother and my sister and mother.”
“The family of Jesus--his mother and brothers--make their way through much of the crowd to reach the outside door of the house where Jesus was sitting. Scholars note that even such a small detail is significant: Judith Hoch Wray says that "house" is the "key word" here, and the understanding of who is on the inside and who is on the outside is central to the meaning of this passage .”[2]
Who is inside and who is outside of the “house?” Who is inside or outside of the church.  That is a question that comes at me from so many ways.  It stirs me up.  It upsets me.  It brings pain and joy and understanding and confusion all at once.
I have been paying a bit more attention to this lately.  Maybe because it is Pride month…I don’t know…I think it started on face book someone asked what is cis gender?  They wanted to know what it meant.
“Ryan Ashley Caldwell It’s when the gender you were assigned at birth actually matches the cultural gender expectations for presentation once older. It’s as if you’re saying “yes!” To your assigned at birth gender. (All this assumes a binary system and not a queer identity)”[3]
That is a great description it’s all very scientific…. until…one-person claims “labels used to divide and separate!” I pointed out that here are more terms to help understand and lift up and celebrate our glorious differences.  He didn’t like that too much the conversation went on until this
“The less united we are as a population (through divisive labels), the more manipulation can occur by the media and the more control can occur by the government. We can no longer be ______Insert name here  (identified by those that know me with my quirks, foibles, etc.), we now have to be known by our labels... race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, pregnancy, citizenship, familial status, disability, veteran, genetic information... and yes, all the above are protected with the only class of people remaining without protection are white males 19-39 years of age unless they're a religion other than Christian, are married, are disabled, or are a veteran.”[4]
 Well I am assuming, from this post, this young man is white between the ages of 18-39 single, and considers himself Christian.  Yikes …. who is in and who is out?  Who is my family?
Before I started writing this I happened to catch the Pride flag raising from Hart plaza in Detroit…When I was young and in Detroit we could barely have a pride rally for fear of retaliation and now they wave the pride flag with the mayor present and council people present.  It really is amazing to see how far we come and yet…It was pointed out that just a few days before a young transgender person of color was murdered.
 This Wednesday morning as I am writing this a minister who is serving in a UCC church shared some pain.  “This last Sunday during my sermon, I revealed that I was transgender and transitioning. (I should begin by saying we are an ONA congregation, and the leadership of the church already knew I was transgender.)
The initial response from the congregation was either positive and supportive, or neutral. I heard nothing that was negative to my face. All day Monday I was in the office and not a word was said to me about my revelation. There was a great deal more silence in my presence than normal from the church staff who are also on council (I know, you bad idea, small congregation, old practices die hard.)
I found out last night that our Council President had called in our Association General Minister to attend our Council Meeting this evening (and did so without consulting with other folks on Council.) Please pray that tonight's meeting will be civil, that love will prevail, and God's will be done.”
I reached out to her and she basically said I am treading water right now…No one…no one should have to tread water in the United Church of Christ, or any Church for that matter! This is unacceptable and yet it goes on day after day.  Sometimes more subtle ways…If we hire a gay pastor they will turn us into a gay church! Its okay to be a gay Pastor just don’t talk about it. Here is one I got from the LAPD before being approved as a chaplain …please do not evangelize your openly gay agenda??? I am not sure what that would even mean.
To this day there are 70 countries that still have anti homosexuality laws on their books 8 countries where it is punishable by death and yet our own administration opposed a resolution condemning the use of the death penalty as punishment for consensual gay relations. It passed the UN without our support.
One other note about this week this Sunday they are celebrating Pride in Los Angeles, which incidently was founded by Christian ministers, Rev. Bob Humphries (founder of the United States Mission), Morris Kight (a founder of the Gay Liberation Front), and Rev. Troy Perry (founder of the Metropolitan Community Church) came up with the idea as a way to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. but before all the festivities today  thousands of people on Bikes rode in after riding all week, 545 miles from San Francisco to los Angeles raising over 65.5 million dollars for the san Francisco Aids foundation and los Angeles LGBT Center both supplying life saving service to people living with HIV/AIDS…who is my family?  Who is in and who is out?
This week in light of the Bakers ruling another UCC Clergy wrote a letter
I want to share this now… Because as a denomination we need to hear this…
“Open Letter to the UCC: The LGBTQ Right to Distrust God (and even the Progressive Church)
For my Beloved United Church of Christ,                           
 I have written in my ordination paper, essays in seminary, and many other forums of my love for this denomination as an out-LGBTQ clergyperson and Christian. This Pride Month 2018, however, it is time to issue a loving challenge. 
Twenty-five percent of congregations Open and Affirming, thirty-three years of the Open and Affirming (ONA) Statement, and many other signs and sacrifices for the LGBTQ community in the National Setting and Local Settings of the UCC (including countless congregational and individual member departures) are a great start. Thank you, UCC, for your dedication, help, and sacrifice. I know how hard your work for LGBTQ people has been: sometimes splitting congregations, families, friendships, and decimating church budgets. Likewise, I know sometimes it has brought new life to congregations in need of new inclusive vision, members, or hope. I look for more examples of the latter as we move forward as a faith tradition into an uncertain future.
That said, I want to address an attitude in the UCC: shock when LGBTQ people don’t understand that this denomination is a safe space. Moreover, I have witnessed straight-privileged anger, indignation, and desperate need for gratitude. Open and Affirming Churches want gratitude from the LGBTQ community, which is something we really cannot emotionally provide. 
In order to be theologically healthy and authentic as an Open and Affirming Movement, we need to first affirm the following difficult reality: The LGBTQ community does not owe the United Church of Christ anything in return for its theologically driven move towards inclusion—even if that has meant great sacrifices. We are delighted to be included in pews, pulpits, pastorates, and pensions, but the wider LGBTQ family’s hurt and continued endangerment (especially with the current political winds) is greater than anything the UCC alone can heal, apologize for, or save us from. Additionally, LGBTQ spiritual gifts, theology, and radically unique perspective on liberation didn’t end with marriage equality. Marriage Equality is not synonymous with LGBTQ Liberation. There is so much more wisdom capacity and value yet untapped by the UCC from our diverse queer perspectives and fabulous presence. 
The UCC’s openness is deeply appreciated by those of us in the LGBTQ community whom have chosen to do the HARD WORK (daily, complicated, painful) of reclaiming and living as religious Christians, but It doesn’t mean that gay and queer people owe you, the institution, our love and devotion. ONA isn’t transactional in that way. The popular attitude that the UCC is the gift that the LGBTQ community is looking for but hasn't found yet must be tempered with an understanding that church PTSD is real even for those who have never been inside a church.
As an example, I have never been inside of a haunted house attraction or a haunted corn maze, but I know that it would NOT be a safe, fun, or good experience for me. I know that from my outside experience with horror movies, people jumping at me, and even being alone at Plymouth at night (yes, this is a scary building when empty). Every experience I have had informs me to stay away from haunted houses. Likewise, even for LGBTQ people who have never had a direct experience with church (not even to mention the countless who have been emotionally abused and damaged by our wider Christian family), convincing us LGBTQ people that churches are safe and trustworthy is a multi-generational, long-term effort that must be rooted in meaningful mission and ministry rather than money and marketing. I have yet, sticking with my above example, to be convinced that a haunted house would result in anything other than a heart attack and my own early demise on the spot! In short, we are a hard sell. 
Having an out minister doesn’t cure that fear or fulfill your ONA promise. Yes, I can speak with my friends and sometimes open doors of understanding, but I am not called to evangelize the LGBTQ community. Hiring me or my predecessor didn’t mean a cure to any fear others have. If anything, it just means that Gerhard and I have a lot of trouble finding friends who understand me or want to be around us, and I never ever blame anyone for this. I knew what I was signing-up for. It is a sacrifice I have been willing to make. It does mean that I understand and respect the healthy distance people who have been hurt need to keep from religion—even if that means keeping me as out gay clergyperson at a distance too. It is just too risky, confusing, or painful to befriend even a gay minister.
The LGBTQ community still has the right to distrust the God of Christianity after 2,000 years of oppression and continued alienation like yesterday. 
The UCC must continue in our Open and Affirming Journey, and that means understanding that what we have begun in reconciliation, love, and radical inclusion is only the beginning of what could take generations of Queer acceptance to heal. We do this work of openness not for ourselves, our full pews, or our budgets, but we do it for God and for Jesus the Christ whose love we are called to embody. 
Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that a local Colorado cake baker could deny a gay couple a wedding cake because of his belief in God and “religious liberty.” For that decision to come down in June is particularly difficult. June is LGBTQ Pride Month when we celebrate our liberation from straight patriarchy beginning with the Stonewall Riots in NYC in 1969, so this decision is jarring for many. It is days like yesterday that I find it incredibly difficult to justify the Church, God, and religion to my LGBTQ community as a Christian Minister of the Gospel. It is days like yesterday when responses, “sorry,” “we promise we aren’t all like that,” “you should try the UCC,” “don’t lump us in with those Christians,” or even, “we are just as angry as you and God loves you… really we promise…”  just don’t work. It breaks my heart to watch my Facebook feed crumble in pain, alienation, and anger after yesterday’s verdict. It hurts even more to have to admit that my ministry and my Facebook posts can’t fix it and neither can the UCC alone within one generation. 
It isn’t really about the damn cake. We, LGBTQ individuals and our straight allies alike, all know that we make better, tastier, more creative cakes anyway when it comes right down to it, right? Right? You know it’s true. It is really about systemic pain of rejection, of family alienation, and discrimination happening when trying to do something as simple as ordering a giant, glorified pastry for a party with a loved one! For God’s sake… it isn’t about the cake. It is about everything else that matters. 
There is hope yet, friends, in grace! This is a word many of us only know if we have ventured into Wesleyan theological territory like I did for seminary, but it can mean so much right now for us in the United Church of Christ.  
Grace means more than changing ourselves, changing our words, opening our doors and then assuming that we no longer carry cultural pain. It means coming to terms with our own privilege and understanding the weight of the history of this wider institution outside of our control. Grace also means understanding when our invitation of Open and Affirming welcome isn’t met with enthusiastic embrace. The turning of the Titanic takes great time. Grace is the humility to know that the doors may have to remain open for a very longtime before anyone feels safe enough to trust this institution. Love is loving those who never will enter our churches and never become pledging units because we are called by God Almighty to do so. Becoming ONA isn’t a marketing scheme to fill pews, it is a theological statement on the level of theodicy!
Grace is a grace for ourselves when we don’t get it right. Grace is love for others when they aren’t quite ready to accept our invitation to a loving community as we experience and know it. Grace is what God holds us all in at this time of transformation for the Open and Affirming Movement. Grace is what happens when we see that becoming Open and Affirming is more than a marketing statement. When taken seriously, it is a part of a wider systematic theology of inclusion that has the power to transform all of us into better people: all of us together…even or especially those whom we now accept will never join or visit the church. 
Yours in Love and Pride,
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph (or just Jake)
Associate Minister
Plymouth Congregational UCC, Fort Collins, CO.
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph,
Associate Minister
Jake came to Plymouth having served in the national setting of the UCC on the board of Justice & Witness Ministries, the Coalition for LGBT Concerns, and the Chairperson of the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries (CYYAM). Jake has a passion for ecumenical work and has worked in a wide variety of churches and traditions. Jake's experience include hospice and hospital ministry settings. Jake is a fluent French-speaker and formerly lived in Nantes, France. He and his husband, Gerhard, live in Fort Collins where Jake is also a Commissioner on the Fort Collins Housing Authority (Housing Catalyst). He is a Board Member for the UCC's Archway Housing in Denver, Habitat for Humanity of Fort Collins, and other non-profit boards. Jake serves Plymouth as the Associate Minister for pastoral care, outreach, mission, congregational life, and he supervises church communications. 
Jake's academic background:
M.Div. and Graduate Certificate in Human Rights, Emory University's Candler School of Theology
B.A., Grinnell College”


Sunday, June 3, 2018

Who is Sabbath for? Mark 2:23 - 3:6

Fred Craddock was a fantastic preacher and teacher and he could tell stories… I first learned of Fred in seminary, he was my homeletics professor, professor or my preacher teacher, preacher teacher.  I love a good story and this one hit me this week…it comes from another time in our history and yet is just as relevant today Fred explains;

I used to go to west Tennessee, where an old high school chum of mine had a restaurant.  I called him Buck. I’d go home for Christmas, “merry Christmas Buck,” and I'd get a piece of pie and a cup of coffee free. “Merry Christmas, Buck” I’d  say.  Every year it was the same.

This one time was different Fred Fred continues;

I went in, “Merry Christmas, Buck.”
He said , “Let’s go for coffee.”
I said, “What’s the matter? Isn’t this the restaurant?”
He said, “I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder.”
We went for coffee.  We sat there and pretty soon he said, “Did you see the curtain?”
I said, “Buck, I saw the curtain. I always see the curtain.”
What he meant by “Curtain” is this: They have a number of buildings in that little town; they’re called shotgun buildings. They’re long buildings and have two entrances, front and back. One’s off the street, and one’s off the alley, with a curtain and the kitchen is in the middle. His restaurant is in one of those. If you’re white, you come off the street; if you’re black, you come off the alley.

He said, “Did you see the curtain?”
I said, “I saw the curtain.”
He said, “The curtain has to come down.”
I said, “Good. Bring it down.”
He said, “That’s easy for you to say. Come in here from out of state and tell me how to run my business.”
I said, “Okay leave it up.”
He said, “I can’t leave it up.”
I said, “Well take it down then.”
“I can’t take it down.” He’s in terrible shape. After a while he said, “If I take that curtain down, I lose a lot of my customers. If I Leave that curtain up, I lose my soul.[1]

Jewish tradition holds that there are 613 Mitzvot or commandments in the Hebrew texts. 613 that is a huge number. These are laws around G-D, Torah, Signs & Symbols, Prayer & Blessings, Love & Brotherhood, The Poor, Gentiles, Family, Forbidden Sex, Times, Dietary Laws, Business Practices, Employees, Vows, Sabbatical & Jubilee, Court, Injuries & Damages, Property, Criminal Laws, Punishment & Restitution, Prophecy, Idolatry, Agriculture, Clothing, The Firstborn, Priests & Levites, Tithes & Taxes, The Temple, Sacrifices & Offerings, Ritual , purity, Leprosy, The King, Nazarites, and Wars. Yikes!

In today's readings Jesus is coming up against the gatekeepers, the protectors of the law, the Pharisees. So of those Six hundred and thirteen commandments there are thirty-nine that refer to sabbath:
“Jewish law prohibits doing any form of melachah ("work", plural "melachot") on Shabbat. Melachah does not closely correspond to the English definition of the term "work",...

Rather, it refers to the 39 categories of activity that the Talmud prohibits Jews from engaging in on Shabbat” [2]

These were interpreted and extrapolated from the biblical texts written about the kind of work required to build the tabernacle.

“Many religious scholars have pointed out that these labors have something in common -- they prohibit any activity that "creates" or that exercises control or dominion over one's environment.

The 39 Prohibited Activities

As based on the Mishnah Tractate Shabbat 7:2, the 39 activities are:

Sowing, Plowing, Reaping, Binding sheaves, Threshing, Winnowing, Selecting, Grinding, Sifting, Kneading, Baking, Shearing wool, Washing wool, , Beating wool, Dyeing wool, Spinning, Weaving, Making two loops, Weaving two threads, Separating two threads, Tying, Untying, Sewing stitches, Tearing, Trapping, Slaughtering, Flaying, Tanning, Scraping hide, Marking hides, Cutting hide to shape, Writing two or more letters, Erasing two or more letters, Building, Demolishing, Extinguishing a fire, Kindling a fire, Putting the finishing touch on an object, Transporting an object between a private domain and the public domain, or for a distance of 4 cubits within the public domain.

The 39 categories of activity prohibited on Shabbat can be divided into four groups:
The first 11 categories are activities required to bake bread.
The next 13 categories are activities required to make a garment.
The next 9 categories are activities required to make leather.
The final 6 categories are activities required to build a structure or building.[3]

This does not sound much like anything Jesus was teaching.  Clearly Jesus actions were breaking laws. Of course, with the list of possibilities just waking up could break a law at some point or the other. The pharisees are clinging tight to these laws for one reason and one reason only. To keep control. To separate the worthy, the clean, the right way from the other, the outsider, the impure.

But why were the scribes and pharisees so mad at Jesus?  Well it could be things Jesus was saying and doing.

Jesus freely walked around with the marginalized.  Jesus preached against empire and division.  Jesus walked with the outcast and even broke bread with them. Then to make matters worse …he scolded those in charge…The Pharisees and the scribes. The law keepers, the gatekeepers, the ones who made sure that those who were out were kept out and those who were in were kept  in…Jesu called them hypocrites

“The seven woes of hypocrisy are:

● Hypocrits you shut people out of the kingdom of heaven! (Matt 23:14)
● They would convert a person then…make them twice the child of hell you are (Matt 23:15)
● They taught if one was to swear by the temple it meant nothing but if they swear by the gold in the temple, “they are obligated to do what they swore. You foolish and blind people!” (Matt 23:16–17)
● Hypocrites! You give to God a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, but you forget about the important matters of the Law: justice, peace, and faith. (Matt 23:23–24)
● Hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and plate but inside they are full of violence and pleasure seeking. Blind Pharisees! (Matt 23:25)
● Hypocrites you are like whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside, but full of dead men's bones. (Matt 23:27–28)

The final woe I think Stephen Schwartz phrased it best..” You snakes, you viper's brood
You cannot escape being Devil's food!
I send you prophets, I send you preachers
Sages and rages and ages of teachers
Nothing can bar your mood!” Godpsell 1973

This is why Jesus says man is not made for the Sabbath all these rules and regulations being policed by ..well false leaders who were more concerned about their own status more than keeping to the heart of God’s love for all.

What we often do not talk about are the actual things one can do on shabbat.

“the following activities are encouraged on Shabbat:

Spending Shabbat together with one's own immediate family;
Temple attendance for prayers;
Visiting family and friends (within walking distance);
Hosting guests (hachnasat orchim, "hospitality");
Singing zemirot, special songs for the Shabbat.
Reading, studying and discussing Torah and commentary, Mishnah and Talmud, learning some Halakha and Midrash.

According to Reform Judaism "one should avoid one's normal occupation or profession on Shabbat whenever possible and engage only in those types of activities that enhance the joy, rest, and holiness of the day." [4]

This was Jesus message. The sabbath is made for us it is a day to engage in scripture and prayer and community. It is a day to gather around a table and rest in the spirit of the Lord. It is the day that we use to practice in our scared places the way we want the world to be.

This is the place where we tear the curtain down.  See how I just tied us back to the first story I shared. That curtain that so long ago was easy to see...may have been torn down but what it stood for stayed in the alley and the back rooms and only in this day are we shedding a light on it. Only now are we beginning to break down the walls of hatred and prejudice that has caused so much pain for way too long.

This is the place where we tear that curtain down and all that goes with it.

You see this table…this simple thing whether it be wood or stone or a floor or a blanket does not matter because what makes it sacred is the lack of wall, curtain, guestlist.  There are no barriers for once this table is set. It becomes God’s table. The curtain that separated God from people was rent a long time ago on a Good Friday!

There are no rules around God’s table! How did saint paul put it?? “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

Well actually there is Jew and Gentile, there is free and slave, there is rich and poor, there is male and female, transgender and non-binary folk, there is blind & deaf, there are those who have physical challenges and those who have mental challenges, there are races and cultures and diversities so many I cannot count and all…. each and every single person is welcome at this table. Heck I have been in places when even our companion animals are welcome at this table.  I am not called here to protect, restrict or judge we are called to welcome all because we believe and proclaim an all loving God.

Makes me want to chant whose table?  God’s table! whose welcome? everyone!

What is the Sabbath for?  It is to rest and pray and connect. Wayne Mueller writes;

“I have sat on dozens of boards and commissions with many fine compassionate and generous people who are so tired, overwhelmed, and overworked that they have neither the time nor the capacity to listen to the deeper voices that speak to the essence of the problems before them. Presented with the intricate and delicate issue o poverty, public health, community well-being, and crime, our impulse, born of weariness, is to rush headlong toward doing anything that will make the problem go away. Maybe then we can finally go home and get some rest. But without the essential nutrients of rest, wisdom, and delight embedded in problem-solving process itself, the solution we patch together is likely to be an obstacle to genuine relief.[5]

On the sabbath we are meant to regain our nutrients of rest, wisdom and delight.  Wisdom, that gentle voice of God placed on our hearts as we center our focus on God. Rest…rest in the holy spirit that is sacred and profound and delight. Delight in the gifts that god gives to us that can be found in family, friends and community.

Why do we need these things?  Well what is our job?  What is the true work we are called to do in our every other day of the week. Besides the care for ourselves, our loved ones and well pay our bills, as Christians, we are called to be doing the work of the kingdom of God. What does that work look like?

It looks like well this…This table. This table that welcomes…
Jew and Gentile, free and slave, rich and poor, male and female, transgender and non-binary folk, blind & deaf, those who have physical challenges and those who have mental challenges, this table that welcomes all races and cultures and diversities.

You see until the world out there looks like the world in here we have a long way to go…until the world in here reflects perfectly the world that god created…we have a lot of work to do….

Until every day is sabbath…until every action is prayer …we have a lot of work to do

And then he said; sabbath was created for humans (Mark :27) and I believe and pray that one day that Humans can make every day sabbath! Amen.

[1] Craddock, Fred B., Mike Graves, and Richard F. Ward. Craddock Stories. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2001. Page 61-62
[3] ditto
[5] Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy lives. New York, NY: Bantam Books, 2000. Page 4

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Today is Trinity Sunday John 3:1-17

Today is Trinity Sunday…we celebrate the three musketeers that are God three for all and all are one…It is a bit confusing.  What makes it more confusing is for some it is a core theological belief for others …well they believe in God, period. There is a commentator who shares this about God
“There is a foundation-shaking reality behind our words and our actions in worship, an utter holiness beneath our feeble attempts to pray and praise such an awesome God. How do our liturgy and the beauty of our sanctuaries even begin to touch the hem of such a robe?”[1]
… I wonder how the text speaks to those in our congregation how do we address this question of being born again? I know for some of us it may get our hair stand on end for this term alone has and is a weapon used by other Christian groups to separate themselves from the pack claiming their way is the only way.

I also wonder how this text is heard by those who are beyond our walls, those not--or no longer--part of a community of faith does this trigger in them what it triggers in me? I know people outside of faith communities experienced God's holiness and God's nearness in other ways and other images. Indeed, how much is God a part of our everyday thoughts? How much time and energy have we given to expanding and deepening our understanding of God, our images of God, our experience of God?

According to Henry G. Brinton, "Our problem today is not that we grasp too much of God, but that we experience too little of God. But if we expand our hearts and minds so that we can encounter God in fresh ways, then we discover a Lord who is extraordinary, not ordinary" [2]
So let us examine Nicodemus who is invited to see God in a new and different way…
Nicodemus. He was, we are told, a leader in his community.
We do not know much about him.
Maybe he was a lawyer, schooled in the tradition of his people. If so, he would have been a senior partner in the leading law firm in Jerusalem, with all the posh perks and a candidate to be a character in a john Grisham novel.
Likely he was an intellectual, perhaps an academic. If so, he would have been not only tenured, but a distinguished professor with a string of publications and an impressive series of academic lectureships. – Bob?
But then again he could have been a major political leader in Jerusalem, no doubt, with his own political action committee, and all the funding at his disposal that he could have wanted.
In another setting he might have been a corporate CEO, well connected, with access to all levels of power, plus enough stock options to live carefully close to scandal, but always careful enough to stay clear. He could teach a few of our leaders today a lesson or two.
There is no evidence, we just don’t know but I wonder what it would have been like in downtown Jerusalem if he had been a reality star, successful, a handsome man, with endless promotional enterprises, always trending the latest looks, always trending on social media maybe with a a big -time, multiyear contract.
Well we don’t know All that we know is that he is very big, somebody important. Like all important people, his actions are very public, under public scrutiny and endlessly reported.
As the story goes, one night this important man went to a secret rendezvous. H instructed his secretary to get the limo with a trustworthy driver.  You know one who will keep everything very hush. It might have worked too except he had been spotted and it was reported that “He came to Jesus at night.” Can’t you just see it…this big limo pulling up in front of some little mud and straw hut where Jesus was staying in Jerusalem.  Jesus was there for Passover and in this Gospel, he had literally just cleared the Temple.  Perhaps this is another reason for the secrecy.
So now we have this dramatic meeting between Nicodemus, and important man in the Jewish community in Jerusalem and Jesus. Maybe he went to see Jesus out of curiosity. Perhaps the story of Cana had moved him.  Maybe he understood Jesus reaction at the temple and wanted to learn more. This is put out across that this is a huge public risk for Nicodemus that he comes in the cover of night…there must be something more…. Walter Brueggemann says of Nicodemus “he had everything, and he wondered, ‘Is that all there is? Is there something more? Is there something different?  Am I on the right track?’”[3] Well, what would that motivation be for such an important man to take such a risk? Brueggemann says; “it must have been a gnaw about reality.”[4]
Now there is a turn of phrase one doesn’t hear these days a gnaw about reality! It means that well Life was getting him down. He was greatly or deeply trouble perhaps even to a point of anguish or despair.
So, Nicodemus enters this shadowy room, no lights, only an oil lamp.  In the best of all pastoral sense …Jesus waits. Nicodemus hesitates, he knows once he starts to ask questions he just might get answers. So, he starts off safe; “I have heard about you. I have heard about your water-to-wine miracle, but I have also heard about your teaching. I have the impression, good sir, that what you are doing is very odd and very special. I just wondered about it, because what you do sounds to me like the presence of God. We Jewish scholars of tradition know that God alone can do such things. Can you help me here?”[5] It is almost as if Nicodemus is seeking and affirmation of what he holds to be true…you know the old I believe this is what is happening right ok good.
But Jesus can see deeper.  Jesus knows that Nicodemus is seeking more than affirmation.  He can sense the yearning within Nicodemus and gets past his resume, gets past his superficial acknowledgements and aims straight for his deeper questions.  That deeper sense of there is something more to this life that is gnawing at Nicodemus’ heart. Jesu looks at him, Jesus looks in him, with a deep spiritual seeing and says; “You got to start over! You’ve go to be reborn. You need to be made anew.  Born again! Born form above! You must become vulnerable and innocent and see the world with a sense of wonder and awe as through the eyes of a child. You need to forget the earthly things that bind you. Your job, your trophies, your diplomas, your money, and your reputation. You must let all that go. Get it out of your head so that you may see the wonder that is the gift of God. You see me do miracles. I do them, because I have given up self.  I have given up that centeredness that is tied to this existence and connected my life to God in such a way that my power comes to me through me from God because of my emptiness. This is how it works with me and God and this is the invitation to you as well. Start over in vulnerability and innocence and awe and wonder. The way you are living now cuts you off, your sureness, your arrogant security keeps you from all the gifts of life for which you so much yearn.”
There is a long pause.  Jesus waits.  Nicodemus’ face gets kind of screwed up as he thinks this over.   “This is not possible”, Nicodemus exclaims!” What he says is being biologically born again is impossible but what he is actually thinking is …you, you, Jesus are asking too much; I cannot give it all up. What he feels is a cold sense of alienation and impotence, a wish for newness, but afraid of what it all means. He says thinking biologically, but wondering socially “How can that be?” The question sounds like a conclusion: it could not be …could it?
Almost as if he is reading his mind Jesus says again “You have to start over.” Nicodemus, confused, sits in silence waiting for more from Jesus. In spiritual direction I have a practice that when some one says something simple and sweet I, will say nothing but wait, wait for the more to come. Nicodemus waits, and Jesus goes on using Hebrew… “It’s like the wind. You cannot make it blow; but when it does blow, you cannot stop it.”
Jesus was splaying with words.  Jesus knew that Nicodemus would understand that the Hebrew word for wind and spirit were one in the same, ruah:
“you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (v.8)
Nicodemus is just more confused than ever.  Then in the midst of his confusion Jesus says…Well The only one who has access to this is me. I am the one who comes from God and I, the son of man, will be lifted up (v14).
“The phrase, ‘Lifted up’, in the fourth Gospel, means lifted up on the cross, made high in elevation by crucifixion. (I would argue it means dot be lifted high through resurrection via crucifixion). The spirit is the power of God that enables us to contradict the world and the world’s expectations, and to sign on for the innocence and vulnerability and dependence…and freedom …that had not been, someone free for God’s way in the world, someone not captive to the pressures and demands and dictions of the world , someone called by God to be their true self, powered by the wind, dazzled by the (resurrected) one, as innocent as one born…again.”[6]
People do not see it, but this is a perfect text for Trinity Sunday.  Jesus addresses the Spirit, Himself and God. And the midst of the concept of Trinity that scholars and theologians try to explain and create doctrine about ...we stand with Nicodemus!

We stand with Nicodemus in our confusion about it all.  We stand in our need to get past this…Past this world that is so broken, the world cries for love every day and so we…we stand with Nicodemus with his question is this all there is …. we try and try and yet there is always more and where do we turn where are we called….
“Wait for the wind that will blow you to freedom;
and watch for the one lifted up in our midst.”[7]
Now that secret meeting is over.  Nicodemus gets back into his limo, but he is not the same man as when he stepped out. Who could be after a meeting with Jesus.  Nicodemus knows there is work to be done.  If we follow the limo we might see it stop by a beggar on the street and instead of just tossing some coins out a window we see the passenger get out and walk into a local tavern with the man as they sit, talk and order a meal. Through out the meal he had these odd words running through his  head.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that one who believes in him may have eternal life. (v.16)
Nicodemus understands that this is not easy mantra but an invitation, and invitation to be reborn, innocent, vulnerable, open to the movement of the wind, with his heart moving towards the unseen, towards the resurrection.  The world seemed open now, the way he saw the world was completely contradicted by this new way of being.  As he took some water to share with his new-found friend he could not help but wonder if, as he poured, it might turn to wine. He wondered if in the bread they shared, there might be new life. He was awe struck as an innocent child seeing the world anew as for the first time with all of its possibilities.
So we stand with Nicodemus in this wonder of trinity.  In this wonder of God emptied into a man who walked and experienced all of life as fully as possible.  A man who was crucified as a common criminal and yet was lifted high in the resurrection as the glorified Christ.  Who sent the spirit, the comforter which is in this room as we speak.  Stirring our hearts and our minds towards new birth and new ways of being.
It is a calling into relationship with God the creator, Jesus the Christ and the holy spirit.  That is the trinity, but it is funny because the trinity doesn’t work without us. We have been invited into this sacred dance.  This spiritual whirlwind if you will, we are caught up in the dance.
It is through this dance that we are fed spiritually and challenged to grow.  We are called to share the news of this spirit that God loves oyu.  No matter who you are, rich man, educated woman, beautifully transgendered person or something in between. It just doesn’t matter.
This is a radically strange and beautiful thing to be Christian.  To be born of spirit and water. 
The water being the physical outward sign that we are part of something, a community.  A nice neat package we are the united church of Christ Petaluma.  I have my membership.  It doesn’t matter if I got my membership in the Baptist church or the catholic all counts we proclaim one baptism.
Then comes the born of spirit part.  The born of spirit part is the challenge.  For it is the spirit who troubles the water. It moves us outside of these walls.  It calls us to do so much more than just Sunday. It calls us out to participate and share the good news. The Good news that you are loved.
One of the things we do is we have the basket in the back for hat Gloves scarves.  I would like to see, Just how many hats and scarves we can make over the summer.  Now I use the knitting loom which is easy to use, and I would be happy to teach anyone who is interested in donating some time and yarn to make hats and scarves.  I know we can knit sox as well, but I haven’t learned that one yet.
The dinner for six are going and through that we get to learn of each other’s stories. We minister to each other through deep listening and shared food. I am wondering this is just a thought for exploration. Can we do a community supper or lunch maybe once a month that is for our communities here and friends and neighbors.  3 congregations, one meal free to anyone who wishes to come? This literally just came to me as I am writing this.
There is a habitat build coming in this fall. There are the cots birdhouses that I am sure Heidi would be grateful for some help with.  These are all ways that the spirit move sin and around and through this congregation towards the community around us.
I pray that the spirit is moving each and everyone of oyu towards something new.  Perhaps it is just something new for yourself like seeking a spiritual director, maybe joining the book group, or the dinner for six.
I pray that the spirit puts something on your heart that you may see a need and we as a community can help fill it. Look around oyu r neighborhood, your town, where is god calling us as a congregation to make a change?  Where is the spirit leading this congregation as the loving presence of God to make a difference?
As the old song goes the spirit is a moving all over all over this land

[2] Ditto

[3] Brueggemann, Walter. The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. 284-287
[4] Ditto, 285
[5] Ditto
[6] Brueggemann, 286
[7] Brueggemann, 287

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The spirit of truth will guide you into all truths - John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Good Morning church, (ASL) Dzien dobry (Polish), Buenos dias (Spanish), Nyado delek (Tibetan), Endermen aderkh (armarhic), Bari Luys (Armenian), Kali Mera (Greek), Shubh Prabhat (Hindi).  I have just announce good morning or good day in several languages those languages were ( as listed above)….  But what has that to with today??
Today is Pentecost Sunday and one of the most common stories of todays is when the Apostles started to come out of the “upper room” speaking and the story in acts says each heard them in their own tongue.
“When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. 4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.
5 There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. “(acts 2:1-7)
“For the Apostles, it must have felt like creation all over again, with wind and fire, and something new bursting forth. Then there was the amazing linguistic experience of speaking in other languages yet being understood by people of many different languages and lands, the names of which represented the known world at that time and have caused no small anxiety to worship leaders in every time.
No matter: in that moment, all the people were one in their hearing, if not their understanding of the deeper meaning of what they heard. Despite their differences, they could all hear what the disciples were saying, each in their own language.
Fire, wind, and humble Galileans speaking persuasively in many tongues were dramatic signs that God was doing a new thing that would transform the lives of all those present, and far beyond, in time and place”[1]
How confusing and yet miraculous this must have been for not only were the apostles blessed by the spirit so that they each could speak other languages all those other people heard them speaking each in their own tongue, so the spirit must have overflowed and enabled the hearers to truly hear.
Todays Gospel reading Jesus is foretelling of the comforter to come.  Jesus even says to the ones he loves it is to your advantage that I must leave…who must be thinking really to my advantage …I don’t want you to go… I love you…I want you to stay…
But Jesus explains if I go I can send the comforter and when the comforter arrives the comforter will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and Judgement.
Oh I think the spirit is still teaching the world that she is wrong about sin, Judgement and righteousness.
Jesus says when the spirit of truth comes, the spirit of truth will guide you to all truth….
Note Jesus did not say right away…Jesus did not say that once the truth is revealed through the comforter to humankind that it will be that we understand it all because if through the spirit we could understand it all…if we really got it all…would this world be in the same condition we are in??
I mean if we truly understood that Jesus teachings of love, community, open table would this world be the way it is?
Would our human history still be so violent?
In the spirit of truth and Christ’s love
Wouldn’t the cast system would be gone…there would be no rich or poor…no higher or lower…no free or slave…and yet all that is still operating in this world.
For 2000 years the spirit has been guiding us into the truth and I am happy to say we have been fighting it kicking and screaming all the way…when I say we, I mean humanity…
There was an article written by our conference minister this week that :
“What would it feel like for us to put ourselves in the shoes of another person? What if we spent more time envisioning what it would be like if we were the ones experiencing injustice, abuse, bullying, and oppression?
I read an article this past Tuesday, April 15, which was the 70th anniversary of the Nakba. Nakba means “catastrophe” in Arabic and refers to the day that 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their home in the 1948 Palestine war. The author of the article, Catherine Alder, is a member of the UCC Palestine Israel Network (PIN) and lives in Oregon. Her “What If? “article asked us to imagine what it would be like if the State of Oregon was suddenly designated as the place for hundreds of thousands of persons in trouble in Europe to come to live and what if those already living there were forced out of their homes as a result. … She goes on to paint a picture of what the Palestinians have endured in their own region and asked us to imagine what it would be like if the same events were to have happened in Oregon.

As I read the article my immediate reaction was, “No way, would we stand for this.” We would fight back and demand justice and reparation for the people of Oregon. We can clearly see the injustice in forcefully removing a people who own homes and have established their lives in the community. We would stand up and speak out for the people of Oregon to be restored to their rightful place.

When we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we are able to see things so much more clearly.

What happens if we found more and more ways to imagine the “what ifs?” in our society?

What if you someone who was born in this country were to put yourself in the position of an immigrant family who has lived in this country for over a decade and for whom this may be the only home your children know? Perhaps you have tried every possible way to become a legal citizen in a system that doesn’t allow for that to happen. How confusing would it be for you to now be told you don’t belong here and there is no way for you to make it legal?

What if I, as a white mother, were to put myself in the position of a black or brown mother with a young adult son? Can I imagine what it would be like to worry every day if I have done a good enough job teaching my son how to stay safe and what to do if he’s pulled over by the police? And, if I am part of one of the many households struggling to make ends meet, how can I balance more than one job while also making sure I can put a meal on the table and find time to partner with my children and their teacher to insure they receive the best education possible and every opportunity to succeed?
If we are able to imagine what it would be like for us to live in situations very different from anything we have ever experienced I believe we are more motivated to stand up against abuse, violence, oppression and injustice that we see happening to other people. When we hear stories of injustices experienced by others we may try to rationalize what we hear and explain how there must be something we don’t know or understand. But when we imagine those same injustices happening to us we are able to see and feel how wrong it is and, I hope, be willing to do something. After all, if we know it’s not right for us why would we believe it was ok for anyone else?”[2]
This is what it means to be guided into truth by the spirit…A challenge for us …to imagine what it means to be the other…the other person…the other race. The other who is oppressed, abused, denied, cajoled, expelled, imprisoned, beaten and yes even killed for be what they believe or just for being who they are.
Are book group had a very hard read these past two months where a black man who was born into poverty who has been an ordained minister for 35 years and is a professor of sociology at Georgetown speaks of his experience. The title is Tears we cannot stop: a sermon to White Americ.  Dr Michael Eric Dyson tells of experiences that are hard…he speaks from pain and yes even anger it will passionately stir up some thoughts ..I know it did for me.
Chapter 6 is titled Benediction subtitled responsive…but that is not a word for there is a period between each letter it is an acronym R.E.S.P.O.S.I.V.E.   First asks for the R reparations and he admits it is hard to understand and that politically it may be impossible to bring about but individually we can even if it is a msall donation to a scholarship or perhaps making we support places that have fair hiring practices and just pay.
He asks that we Educate our selves around black life and literacy he says “Racial literacy is as necessary as it is undervalued.”[3] There is something we should try to do and try to do often not just with black America but with all the rich cultures that surround us.
The next letter is S which he says “you must not only read about black life, but you must School your white brothers and sisters your cousins and uncles your loved ones and friends and anyone who will listen to you, about the white elephant in the room…white privilege”[4]..i am gcoming back to this in just a second or 5
The next letter was P, participation. Go to rallies, prayer meetings, protests and community meetings anywhere you can make a difference.
Then he asks us to use the letter S speak up speak up against injustice
One issue he reminds us with the letter I is the distinction between Immigrant experience and the Black American experience though they over lap we need to learn there is a difference
The V in responsive is Visit he says to visit schools, jails and churches of the three he says “visiting a black church is just good for your soul. The best black churches do many of the things religious folk should be doing if they are concerned about the poor and the lost.”[5]
And the final E is about walking in some one shoes for that moment he says “All of what I said should lead you to empathy. It sounds simple, but its benefits are profound.”[6]
The Holy spirit shall lead you truth…National geographic has a series by Katie Couric and she went to a university where she took the privilege walk  they only showed a clip but I decided as the final aprt of this reflection to read you the activity just imagine yourself doing this
The following is the complete set of questions from the classroom version of this activity.

If your ancestors were forced to come to the USA not by choice, take one step back.
If your primary ethnic identity is "American," take one step forward.
If you were ever called names because of your race, class, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, take one step back.
If there were people who worked for your family as servants, gardeners, nannies, etc. take one step forward.
If you were ever ashamed or embarrassed of your clothes, house, car, etc. take one step back.
If one or both of your parents were "white collar" professionals:  doctors, lawyers, etc. take one step forward.
If you were raised in an area where there was prostitution, drug activity, etc., take one step back.
If you ever tried to change your appearance, mannerisms, or behavior to avoid being judged or ridiculed, take one step back.
If you studied the culture of your ancestors in elementary school, take one step forward.
If you went to school speaking a language other than English, take one step back.
If there were more than 50 books in your house when you grew up, take one step forward.
If you ever had to skip a meal or were hungry because there was not enough money to buy food when you were growing up, take one step back.
If you were taken to art galleries or plays by your parents, take one step forward.
If one of your parents was unemployed or laid off, not by choice, take one step back.
If you have health insurance take one step forward.
If you attended private school or summer camp, take one step forward.
If your family ever had to move because they could not afford the rent, take one step back.
If you were told that you were beautiful, smart and capable by your parents, take one step forward.
If you were ever discouraged from academics or jobs because of race, class, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.
If you were encouraged to attend college by your parents, take one step forward.
If you have a disability take one step backward.
If you were raised in a single parent household, take one step back.
If your family owned the house where you grew up, take one step forward.
If you saw members of your race, ethnic group, gender or sexual orientation portrayed on television in degrading roles, take one step back.
If you own a car take one step forward.
If you were ever offered a good job because of your association with a friend or family member, take one step forward.
If you were ever denied employment because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.
If you were paid less, treated less fairly because of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.
If you were ever accused of cheating or lying because of your race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, take one step back.
If you ever inherited money or property, take one step forward.
If you had to rely primarily on public transportation, take one step back.
If you attended private school at any point in your life take one step forward.
If you were ever stopped or questioned by the police because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.
If you were ever afraid of violence because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.
If your parents own their own business take one step forward.
If you were generally able to avoid places that were dangerous, take one step forward.
If you were ever uncomfortable about a joke related to your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation but felt unsafe to confront the situation, take one step back.
If you use a TDD Phone system take one step backward.
If you were ever the victim of violence related to your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.
Imagine you are in a relationship, if you can get married in the State of ___ take one step forward
If your parents did not grow up in the United States, take one step back.
If your parents attended college take one step forward.
If your parents told you that you could be anything you wanted to be, take one step forward.
If you are able to take a step forward or backward take two steps forward.[7]
Todays is the churches birthday we are called to continue the work of Gods truth that we are all create din the image of God and not one of us are living in a just world for all…nope not yet…it is through the spirit we called to get this work done…so though we may celebrate to day and to day is the sabbath a day fo rest the other times we should be seeking out the opportunity to work for fair wage for fair pay…to work with sanctuary or the dreamers…engage in the new poor peoples campaign seek out how we can walk with the other…and do what we can to bring about the Just world for all that we seek.

[3] Dyson, Michael Eric. Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America. New York: St. Martins Press, 2017. P199
[4] Ditto 209
[5] Ditto 210
[6] ditto