Better Angels - Higher Ground
February 27, 2022
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Scripture: Luke 9:28-36
28Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and, in those days, told no one any of the things they had seen.
They didn’t recognize him, the disciples couldn’t comprehend what they were seeing Jesus was different, more than what they’d thought. This man of the people, this healer, teacher, prophet Messiah, who had just been talking to them was now conversing with the faith’s founder, Abraham, and prophet, Elijah and shining with holy light. They realized in that instant, who he was, that he was the Lord, the bearer of the likeness of God through whom the love of God was manifest. Have you had a revelation such as this? When something you hear or see, has you say, yes, Jesus is the Messiah, His is the one in whom God’s love is manifest. Perhaps on Christmas Eve when you raise your candle or on the most ordinary of Sundays, like this we hear “This is my beloved son, listen to him” and something within us says, “I will” Yes, I will listen, I will follow. I will be the disciple, I’m invited to be, and we’d like to stay in that yes. That assurance, that peace within ourselves that sense of holiness in our own being.
So would the disciples, but Jesus leads them back down the mountain. Into the unsettled and unsettling world full of ego and conflict where the differences among us, so unimportant on top of that mountain become profoundly so. But they must follow him there, for he would have them bear the gift of revelation within themselves. And then open their eyes to the holiness that is around them and within them. Even in this blessed and warring world, even in one another.
I’ve been working on a thousand-piece Puzzle – it’s of this painting Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh. When I saw the original I stood so close as to see the places where the paint was raised off the page. And the guard asked me to step back. But not before I sensed the humanity behind these strokes. I’m currently working on a thousand-piece puzzle version and can get as close as I like. Each piece has by my count at least a dozen strokes of various colors of paint, layer upon layer, so many shades of blue and also yellow, browns and reds, and black and white.
I begin to see the human behind them. Multilayered, complex, the strokes of his life’s experience, full of darkness and light. This person, this preacher’s son, a man of faith who struggled so, and yet carried a revelation of the divine. And a sense of it around him, and so brought forth these revelations. Of its presence of the holly in a field of sunflowers. On a starry night over the village where he lived. In the face of the people with whom he lived.
How shall we see holiness? In weary and warring world might each person, in their breathtaking complexity have something to reveal to us. I’ve been reading a book about Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglas, an enslaved man who had freed himself, gone north, and was working for the rights of black soldiers in the Union Army. In 1863, one could stand in line outside the White House and wait for an audience with the President. And when he was invited in to meet Mr. Lincoln they were, to one another, a revelation. Lincoln was moved by Douglas’ dignity, eloquence, intelligence, and forcefulness of conviction. Douglas was impressed by Lincolns honesty and modesty and readiness to call himself out, and to listen to a man of different station as his equal.
The layers of their life experience vastly different, one knew the stroke of a master’s whip, the other studied law by candlelight, yet there was true meeting, there. They spoke their truths without hesitation or worry of offense, Lincoln would thereafter ask for Douglas’ advice, Douglas thereafter, claimed this white man was truly his President. Two years before, in his first inaugural address Lincoln had called forth from the nation, the better angels of our nature, to engage one another out of our more noble selves. To see one another, perhaps, as God sees us. Right here, right now, in the thick of it, to be who the revelation of divine love; invites us to be, to carry the revelation from that higher ground, into the word.
It is still the call, how shall we rise up to become our better angels? Less weighed down by prejudice toward one another more able to see, as the disciples saw, the holiness before us? This week we ask, what might be a better way than war. I have been impressed by what I have learned about a project called the Braver Angels and learned that Sandy Freer has been studying this herself. I’ve invited Sandy to share what she’s been learning. This is God’s beloved daughter, let’s listen.
What Does The Lord Require?
Human Relations Sunday
February 20, 2022
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Scripture: Micah 6:638
6 “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love.
A few months ago, right before the service, I saw a man with a child in the hallway I nodded and smiled and went on my way to get ready. Not realizing that I was walking past an Afghan pharmacist, a former translator for American forces, who just months before, in those last harrowing days of the American occupation, had been found and beaten by the Taliban. And after years of seeking asylum here, was at the airport with his wife, Nahima and their son. And it was Matt, for whom he had translated, moved heaven and earth to get them out, Matt, who is Jeff Corcoran’s best friend, and so Fawad and Nahima had become Jeff and Ridhima’s friend, and were here that morning for the Christian baptism of their wondrous daughter, Reya.
That Nahima and Fawad are Muslim mattered not. For Islam teaches that Jesus is a prophet of Islam. That while the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him is the seal of the prophets. Islam Instructs its followers to revere Jesus as the Messiah, to honor his mother, Mary, and to understand that we, Christians, Jews, Muslims, are all people of the Book. And so we are brothers and sisters.
From the Qur’an
Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians—whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor shall they grieve" (Surah 2:62 and 5:69)
". . . and nearest among them in love to the believers
will you find those who say, 'We are Christians,' because amongst these are those devoted to learning and those who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant" (Surah 5:82).
"O you who believe! Be helpers of God—as Jesus the son of Mary said to the Disciples, 'Who will be my helpers in (the work of) God?' Said the disciples, 'We are God's helpers!' " (Surah 61:14).
Christians are nearest, says the Qur’an in love. For they are devoted to learning of God reject the world’s evil are humble are helpers. It resonates with our passage from Micah today. The prophet is speaking to the people who had become caught up in the outer aspects of religion. The sacrifices of coin and animals that would make God happy. And they had forgotten what God most wants.
It was some days after the baptism when I learned of Fawad and Nahima’s story and felt anguish that I had only nodded and passed by. It reminded me of Jesus’ parable of the priest who passed by the man lying beside the road because he was too busy with other things to see and show compassion. We all do this, for our minds and lives and even hearts are full, we walk by, we turn our head, or we don’t even notice situations and persons. Particularly when we feel there is nothing we can do. We do this with persons, we do this with countries. Of course, none of us are God. We cannot notice or take in everything and everyone. But that moment, and these passages from the Qur’an and Micah remind us of what we may be missing.
The prophet Micah says:
But He has told you, O mortal, what is good; says Micah, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Do you hear the echoes of how Christians, and Jews are to be?
So, for today, Human Relations Day, how shall we live into the expectations of the Qu’ran and our scriptures, and of Jesus, peace be upon him. How shall we not pass by, be a people of justice, and kindness, and humility and helpfulness. Today, on Human Relations Sunday, we are here to not pass by, but to stop and listen, listen carefully, to one whose first language is not ours, to this husband, father, pharmacist, a person of heroism and compassion, a man of deep faith. And courage given by God. Let us listen, in kindness and humility and discern in our hearts and together how shall we do justice, how shall we be helpers.
We will l begin our listening with a prayer put to words of the great Finnish national anthem. A song that is poignant today as Europe is on the brink of war. And as we consider the peoples of Afghanistan, our brothers, and sisters, so far from our sight: This is my song, O God of all the nations.
February 13, 2022
Rev. Charles Hill
The Reconstruction of Love
A few weeks ago, I called the office of one of our senators. I urged him to support the Voting Rights Bill before him and his coworkers. I told him it was important that everyone have an opportunity to cast their vote without intimidation. He sent me a very nice letter thanking me for my interest and went on to tell me that he could not vote for the bill because the bill would infringe upon States’ Rights.
I was not surprised by his answer. I did respond with a balanced letter, thanking him for his response, and then said, “Let me tell you a story.”
In April of 1952 I happened to be on a Trailways bus traveling from Water Valley,
Mississippi to Nashville, TN. I had boarded the bus before dark, but
being a timid boy in those days I did not look beyond the first seat two.
I am sure I took the second one. To take the front seat would have not
been “proper.”—The bus rolled on through the late evening, dark came,
and at some god-forsaken place out in the middle of nowhere, the
driver announced a ten-minute pause. There was a rest room and ham-
burger place. I am not sure how I was in and out of the burger place
quickly, but I was. It was then that I observed the driver talking with
two young men; very well dressed young black men. The driver was
saying to them, “The man said if you will go round to the back door
he will sell you a sandwich.” These young men had been in the back of
the bus all the time. (State Law), they were denied food at the front door, if not by state law, then state practice. It was during the Korean War.
Both young men were impeccably dressed, in uniforms of the US Air Force. Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
I. This is Black History Month. Black History is not something we like to look at closely, I think. It can be disturbing, if one is sensitive. It would be great we would find a way to pursue a better understanding of this part of our past. I think it would help us all. It could be that you have already done this. Did you know that slaves had no rights what-so-ever? That a master could beat a salve if he so wished? That a slave had no access to the courts? They had no say over their children? Children or spouse could be sold at any time to anyone, and the slave had no say at all? Did you know that children were born into the status of the mother? And that many masters were the father to many mixed-race slaves?
That was true for Thomas Jefferson. I live beside a woman who traces her heritage back to Sally Hemmings.
Did you know that in the early 1860s slaves in the south produced more than five million bales of cotton, valued at more than a billion dollars, and received not a cent for their labors? Did you know the Methodist Church split over slavery? For out fore-parents in Methodism slavery was stronger in the Church than God?
II Did you know that following the Civil War, Blacks were free and Black men had the vote. That there was a Southern Homestead Act that gave land away free, but most of it went to whites? That recent estimates are, that about 46 million people, mostly white, from which they can trace the beginnings of their wealth? That this was where the black folk lost again one opportunity for equity in wealth?
Did you know that about a dozen black men were elected to the House of Representatives and one to the Senate? Did you know that in 1877, after one of our boys, Rutherford B. Hayes, made a deal with the devil, was elected to the highest office in the land, pulled all troops out of the south and granted them States’ Rights? And, that soon all kinds of obstacles were thrown up to keep blacks from voting? And those restrictions continued until the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965? And that our Supreme Court pretty much cancelled out that law in 2013. And that all kinds of challenges to voters are being enacted across the land today?---That is just a few of the high lights of the challenge before us.
There was destruction of the Black; then Reconstruction that gave some freedom; then after President Hayes, deconstruction; and in 1965 Reconstruction; and in 2013 once again deconstruction. And, that a lot of Christians do not really care enough to say, “It is time for some genuine Christian, Christ-Centered Reconstruction in the land.” If it happens it has to begin with us.
III. What would that kind of Reconstruction look like? First it would be important to delve honestly and openly into the history of the slavery practice in the States from 1619 to 1865. I didn’t learn anything, really, about it in grade school, high school and college. And not a lot about it in seminary. We need to know, and to know, we will have to dig it out for ourselves. It might be a part of our white salvation.
Secondly, as we study we will need to keep the Golden Rule in mine. I am sure we all know what that rule states: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” That is the text I have chosen to lift up from the morning scripture. As we look at how power treats people, or how insecurity affects us, we need to keep asking: Is this the way I would want to be treated?
Now I can almost hear someone asking, “Is he talking down to us.” And I would say, no, I am talking to myself, but if you overhear something that touches you, just embrace it. For I can be a prejudiced sinner like other white folk.—For when we, in West Ohio, merged with the Lexington Conference in 1968, an all-black conference, I was not feeling gracious. I saw “them” taking positions in the conference leadership that I wanted for myself, and I was not happy.
(Reminds me of an introduction of a Black Student pastor—Tell the story)
It was a small membership church in rural Union County. It had been struggling for a lot of years. And, now, the gracious local pastor who had served them for years was retiring. So, I contacted the seminary and was told there was a student, a woman, a black woman, available. I called the matriarch of the congregation and told her about the available student pastor. She said a woman pastor would be just fine. Then I told her the woman was a black person. Jean responded, “That won’t be a problem at all.” So, we agreed on the day and time I would bring her for the introduction. The day arrived and a group gathered at the church and the student was introduced. We learned she was also musically gifted. So, when we were about to leave, Jean said, “If she is a pianist, let’s gather around the piano and sing a few hymns and then have a prayer before we leave.” As the group moved toward the piano, I kind of hung back to allow the pastor parish group and pastor to go toward the piano. One older man also hung back. He came close to me and said, “Do we have to take her?” I told Mr. G. that the group had already approved her. He then said, “We ran those people out of this community forty years ago.” I don’t think I responded to him. But, after the prayer, I was somewhat alone with Jean and said, “Mr. G. is not happy.” Her response was, “I know, but he is going to get happy.” I once told Jean I wished every church has a major leader like her. Change comes very slowly and painfully for some folks.
And when women came, I was not so crazy about that. I told Pastor Patty recently, that when I saw Shirley Cadle leading a worship procession down the aisle in Hoover Auditorium during Annual Conference, I was not happy. But Shirley was an excellent pastor and leader. Gifted. God knew what God was doing when she was called.—When I was a superintendent, some church leaders would say, “Don’t send a woman here.” And I would tell them, if an ordained woman is sent by the bishop, I will introduce her. “ I then would say, “We have some excellent women pastors.” And that was fact.
Sometimes it is easy to forget Paul’s’ words to the Corinthians: “Make love your aim.” And about his words to the Galatian Church:
“There is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither slave nor free,
there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ
And we could add: “There is neither black nor white,
rich or poor, brown, red or yellow, straight or gay, we are all one
in Christ Jesus. We are equal before the Almighty.
Years ago, I knew a woman who said over and over: “I am not perfect, God isn’t through with me yet, I am still under construction.” Truth is, we are all under construction, but some of it has to be Reconstruction. We first of all need to unlearn some stuff that has helped to form our thinking and control our behavior. My dear mother was a good woman. But she had an unbalanced attitude toward people of color. She was from WV, that had originally been VA. Many times I heard her say, “I believe Black people (she didn’t say Black) are just fine so long as they stay in their place.” Is that how some of us feel? When we merged with the Black Methodists back in “68” a story came out of a southern church. A white woman who met for her first time, over lunch, with several women, a mixed-race group, said: “I became sick to my stomach when I sat at table with black women. I had to leave for a while.” When she was telling the story, God and she had overcome her fear of people who were different.---Spiritual Reconstruction had done its work. It is hard work. I don’t know whether mother ever fully made it or not. Last time she stated her thoughts on Black people, I said to her, “Mother, where is their place? They are God’s children same as you and me.” What all have we learned that we need to ask God to help us unlearn? That’s the beginning.
The next step toward Spiritual Reconstruction requires us to take inventory. to look deeply at our core information. Is it Christ Like? Does it reflect the Love of Jesus? --- Maybe we could spend some time this week in spiritual reflection? We could ask ourselves:
Where am I not following the rule of Christian Love?
What behavior in my life needs changed?
How can I help God do that?
If you need help in Spiritual Reconstruction. In reality, if we
are growing in Christ we need a bit of Reconstruction daily.
Come Holy Spirit; come and open my spiritual eyes.
Show me who I am, really. Warts and all.
Is there some part of my thinking, speaking, or acting that needs to be changed?
Reconstructed with a larger portion of Christian love?
Lord, Help me to see my needs, then grant me the resolve to begin the journey
toward a love that will bring greater life to me, the Church, and ultimately,
the whole world.
Help me, O Lord, to discover my better angels; my better angels, that I may
think in love and act always in a loving spirit. Amen.
February 6, 2022
Rev. Patricia Wagner
You are Calling Me? Lord, Have Mercy!
Scripture: Luke 5: 1-11
Luke 5: 1-11
Once while Jesus1 was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Its morning, Jesus has just he healed a man in Capernaum, and he has spoken with such authority that Luke says the people are amazed, and they’ve followed him down to the sea of Galilee. And as the fisherman are standing on the shore, cleaning their nets. After a long, discouraging night, and Jesus steps into one of their boats and asks to be taken out a short ways. So, to teach all those along the beach.
The boat is Simon’s, who will be renamed Cephas, Peter, the Rock. We do not hear Jesus teaching to the crowd, That’s not the focus of this story, it’s this, that once done he says to Simon and the others, ‘Take the boat out farther to fish’ And they say, “Nope, we already tried, “ ‘Try again, he says, but cast your nets on the other side’. And once they haul up all those fish, so that they begin to sink, Simon is the one who is immediately aware that he is in the presence of the divine and just as aware of how unworthy he is.
And I don’t think his life is any less worthy than mine or yours. Nor social ranking, we know that means nothing to God. Imagine Jesus climbs into the boat of my life and says, ‘I need you to help people hear me’. And then says, ‘Lets go out deeper’. How unworthy I would feel to be in the presence of such holiness. But and here is the revelation, perhaps the real miracle. The Lord needs Simon. He needs those who are lowly, and those who are highborn. He invites all of them, all of us. For there is work to do. To lend him our boats, these vessels, our lives.
There are people to fish for. That’s a metaphor exactly right for fishermen, but it rings of entrapment. And don’t fish die once you catch them? But the direct translation in Greek is ese zogron: You will take men/humans alive. You will save them. When I was in Vietnam with my daughter to explore her heritage, meet her birth family we spent time with church folk there. Including a young woman, who among English speakers called herself Beth, the first and only Christian in her family. Beth was teaching bible school for children as she prepared for seminary. At a restaurant in Saigon, Beth shared about her family. Her brother and father’s estrangement. Her brothers suicide. And her struggle to forgive her father. And to help him see how he needed to change. She looked at the tables around us filled with young people, young families and her eyes filled with tears. “These people they don’t realize that there is more to life than money. They are so thirsty for it, but they don’t even know it”. She was a fisherwoman. She wanted to bring people out alive. It is hard work, and she found the place to begin.
Now its not been an easy time for the mainline churches, not in Vietnam, nor in the U.S. For a while, David Brooks, the centrist columnist for the New York Times wrote an extraordinary article about the evangelical churches and how young people, including those in seminary are leaving in numbers.
“Even those in seminary are moving away from church as we normally conceive it. They want to get away from all the bitterness of their elders. ‘Modernity has peaked,’ Said one leader.” And Brooks agrees: The age of the autonomous individual, the age of the narcissistic self, the age of consumerism and moral drift
has left us with bitterness and division, a surging mental health crisis and people just being nasty to one another.
What are churches offering? 12 Historic Black Colleges were attacked on February 1. As a warming at the beginning of African American History Month. And what do we hear from churches? 900,000 persons have died in this country from COVID, and churches, from Evangelical to mainline have split over masks! Millions are looking for something else, says Brooks, They want to build communities that are smaller, intimate, authentic, which can often fit in a living room. They see faith as inseparably linked to community service with the poor and marginalized. Some they want system of belief that is communal, that gives life transcendent meaning. Go out into the deep and try another side, says Jesus and bring the people out alive.
But we protest, we are inadequate, we say. Lend me your boat, lend me your life, Jesus says and I will lend you my authority. Lend me your life, Jesus says
and I will give you a life one that fills your nets. And we realize that somehow this life, this vessel was already his. That it was God’s to begin with. But what have we but the grace that calls us to Christ’s service? The grace that allowed Simon and all the rest, to set down their nets, and follow. Let the grace that moves us be the authority may the Christ you feel inadequate. Good, so do I, but Jesus, who walked the lakeshore who healed the sick who forgave those who hurt him, who loved his enemies, who died at human hands and was raised by God’s power and love, calls us anyway. Says that we are good enough to be vessels. To be couriers, to be fishers of people.
Who says, lend me your life, follow me. I will close with these words of Albert Schweitzer. A physician and theologian and musician: “He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside. He came to those men who knew him not. He speaks to us the same word: "Follow thou me!" And sets us to the tasks which he has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in his fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience who He is.”