September 4, 2022
Pay Day Someday
Rev. Charles Hill
Genesis 32: 22-32
When I was a preschooler, growing up on our first farm, we possessed one link to the outside world. That was our Silvertone Montgomery Ward radio. It was powered by a car battery and it was used sparingly, but every weekday afternoon mother listened to a “soap” and Cowboy Loy, who broadcast over WWVA, Wheeling WV. I still remember his theme song:
Banners are flying todays the big show,
cowboys are whooping the big rodeo,
the announcers are busy, the horns give a toot,
cowboys rush doggies to the end of the shoot.
Well, recently as I was looking at a report of the January 6, 2021, eruption in Washington D. C. I concluded that what happened there was not a rodeo, although there were “banners flying.” Lots of them. “Jesus ” flags, “Don’t tread on me,” “Skull & Crossbones,” The thirteen star “Betsey Ross,” flag. And, of course the “Confederate” flag so defiantly carried through the building. Also, the QANON man, was there, horns and hairy chest. And Richard “Bing” Barnett, reclining in the Speaker’s chair, with his rugged he-man boots on the desk. It looked like a terror attack, yet from some angles it looked like kids playing war, or, it could have been some kind of comedy show. It was, however, in all reality, a brazen, premeditated attack on the government of these United States. And it was a wake-up call to most of us who love this country, telling us that something is terribly wrong right here in “River City,” and we need to look, evaluate and act to restore the Republic.
Now most of the actors felt really good about what they had done. They took selfies, and sent them flying through the clouds to family and friends, captioned with “I was in the Peoples’ House.” Yet, in a few weeks “The music stopped.” The music stopped, with a knock on the door and when the door opened a badge was flashed: “FBI, we want to talk with you.”
As I pondered this drama, I began to recall a sermon I heard on a long play record more than sixty years ago; a sermon about Ahab and Jezebel killing Naboth and taking his vineyard. And in time, you remember that Jezebel came to a horrible, horrible, death. That old preacher believed the unspeakably hellish death, was because she and Ahab treated Naboth with unrestrained hatred. And that is the point of the sermon. Again, and again the old guy returned to the refrain of his message: “There’s a payday someday.” “Payday Someday.” The chickens always come home to roost.” The January sixers are facing their payday now. And for some it won’t end soon. And for some, well, they await the knock.
II. Now I have said all that to get your attention. To get the blood moving through your mental computer. So, now I can say, Jacob knew all about paydays, and he knew he had one coming. I am sure that some nights Esau appeared in Jacob’s dreams with a spiked cudgel in his hand about to bash Jacob’s skull, and Jacob might suddenly yell, awakening his wives with screams and punches in the air, and then find himself awake and in a profuse sweat. You know the story. Jacob and Esau were twins. Esau was in the process of being born and Jacob reached out and tried to supplant him. Tried to grab his heel. But he failed. Gradually the boys grew up. Esau became the hunter. Jacob evolved into more of a home boy. And he also liked staying around mom and being special in her sight. And she enjoyed Jacob. I think more than she liked Esau. Always a bad deal in a family.
There came a day when in a moment of silliness Esau came in , apparently empty handed, from hunting. He was hungry and Jacob had a pot of deer meet, lintels, potatoes and carrots simmering on the fire. And Esau said, “I’ll give you my birthright, my inheritance, for a bowl of that stew.” It was done. Esau thought it was a joke, but Jacob did not. And sometime later, Rebecca, the boys’ conniving mother, designed a way to get old blind Isaac to give Jacob the ultimate family blessing. It happened, and Esau was voted out as first son and Jacob was given the crown. Even after Isaac knew he had been bamboozled he refused to correct it. He was like my first cousin who married an alcoholic who some nights would get his revolver, come into the bedroom and threaten to kill her. “Why didn’t you divorce him”? I asked. “Oh, I promised ‘for better or worse’ before God.” Isaac had given his blessing, and that was that. It was done.
When Esau learned of their conniving plot, he prepared to kill Jacob. Just human, you know. Rebekah could see it in Esau’s eyes. So, momma formulated a plan. She sent Jacob off to live with her brother, his uncle Laban. Now time has passed, years have flown, and Jacob has done well, in fact so well that Laban wanted him to leave; to move on. For Jacob was accused of enriching himself at the expense of the Laban Clan. He, apparently had engaged in some unethical practices against his uncle. And, of course, Laban had done the same with him. They shared the same DNA, corrupted DNA. Maybe some of us have a bit of that DNA too.
Remember, Jacob worked seven years for Rachael and the morning after the wedding he woke up with Leah on his arm. (I have often wondered about that part of this story. I can’t believe Jacob was that naive). But, finally he had both daughters for wives. Years passed and things changed, Jacob’s possessions grew exponentially, and Laban’s clan turned against him, so he and his entourage left quietly in the night, like a renter who is six months in arears. And they were on the road for some time before Laban knew. He chased after his son-in-law and daughters. Caught them. They talked. I think loudly part of the time. Real loud. Laban complained that Jacob had stolen the household gods. Jacob knew nothing of that. But, Rachael did and was sitting on them as her father searched the tent. She had stolen the gods. That’s like seminarians stealing stoles. Finally, when they had finished their negotiations and came to some kind of agreement, they set up a pile of stones and agreed that, “So long as neither moves past these stones we will live in peace.” Translated: Laban said, “So long as I don’t see your face, we are good.”
They sealed the deal with an oath: The Lord watch between you and me, when we are absent one from another. That is familiar to some because it was a youth benediction for years. What we didn’t know was the rest of it. If you ill treat my daughters, though no one else is with us, remember that God is witness between us.” The implication: And God will take care of you.
Now Jacob and his entourage are approaching Esau country. Jacob is scared, as one of my parishioners used to say, “scared spitless.” He did not know what lay ahead. It is said that fear can focus our senses. I have a feeling Jacob was fully focused. But being Jacob, he had a plan. First he sent all his hired help on across the Jabbok, with all his goats, sheep, cows, camels and probably dogs. A little later he sent his wife and family on across. Some think he was willing to sacrifice some of them, even his family, so he might be able to get away, just in case Esau was still angry.
With everyone across the river, he then entered into the struggle; the struggle between the “Conniving Jacob and the Honorable Jacob. I know, the Bible implies he wrestled with God. But what does that mean? What does it mean beyond struggling with the light and dark sides of himself?—And he, after an all-night struggle finds peace. Conversion is not easy. “Come forward & accept Jesus,” some say. “Get real and deal with who you are and who you want to be,” is more like it and more challenging. It takes a life-time. But Jacob’s two sides, “Who he was and who he wanted to be”, struggled, until Jacob embraced a new person who he expected to become. A new life for himself. He was determined now to set things right between himself and his twin brother. And as he headed across his Jabbok, he was left with a limp. Yes, according to the story, he didn’t walk the same. Now don’t let the limp bother you. He was changed and it showed outwardly. That’s the way real conversion works. God even changed his name from “Jacob” which means “Supplanter,” or “Ouster,” to “Israel,” which means “The one who strives with God.” Jacob was a changed man. The Bible says, ”He wrestled with a man; but the writer also says “God.” Jacob says, “For I have seen God face to face.” Some artists have angels standing nearby over the battle Jacob engages. They are always indicators of God’s presence. And they point toward change.
Bishop Gerald Ensley had an auto accident in December of 1962. On Christmas day the family was called in to Riverside, for the doctors thought he was dying. But he didn’t. He began to heal. And the following June, and I was there, at Lakeside, when he addressed the three thousand gathered in Hoover Auditorium. He said, “One does not hear the whisper of angel wings and remain the same person.” Jacob limped. Maybe it was because he was now relaxed. Maybe it because spiritual battles mark us.—You know the rest of the story, Esau had already forgiven him, they embraced and lived happily ever after. Except for the next generations.
Conclusion: We have all wrestled with God at some point in life. Maybe not today, we have settled the conflict with the Almighty. But someone here may still be struggling. Like the woman who had carried a burden for 60 years. She had gone to be with her soldier boyfriend. They consummated their relationship, but never married. Now her husband was dead. She had to tell the children. All over 60. She did, and they smiled; said, He was a good dad and husband. We don’t see the point. She must have limped after that. She had been on the banks of the Jabbok for scores of years.
But there is more. Collectively we are on the banks of the Jabbok. We United Methodists will soon become United Methodist and Fragmented Methodists. Our struggle with God, ourselves, our understanding of what God wants have not brought unity, but divorce. That sometimes happens. We are all ready limping, we just don’t quite know what it means.
But now we are in a Jacob-like struggle at one more level. The Democratic America is in major conflict with another faction that is seeking an Authoritarian America. Democracy is so messy, but a strongman can make decisions quickly. And the struggle is on. Some are eager to establish a Christian America. And for some that really sounds fantastic. But history does not give a positive report where Christian or any other religion rules, or has ruled. At this hour the struggle within this nation is on. And each of us is being called to embrace the God who revealed himself in Jesus; the Jesus whose loves all people, the white folks, the black, brown, yellow, red, as well as Christian, Jew, Muslim, Sike, Hindu, and those who stand alone. The Inclusive Christ. That is our calling: to embrace who changes our and lives for the better. Then our pay day will be joyful, not tearful.
Jacob wrestled with God, with the two sides of himself. Now we are wrestling on the banks of the Jabbok. Some, individually, Some as United Methodists, Some who love this country and know if Democracy rules, it will require them to stay up all night and wrestle with God, or the two minds struggling within.—What ever the decisions in life, there is always a payday. Sometimes we receive Gold, other times it’s a cudgel. Either way we will walk differently. Amen.
August 28, 2022
Jesus and the Sabbath
Luke 14: 1-14
The Bible is perhaps best understood as meditation literature. In brief, these texts are made to be meditated on, contemplated by Communities of Faith, and in so doing we are shaped and formed, and grow in our identity—both as communities, and as individuals.
--The Gospel of Luke puts some high significance on the meaning of Sabbath for the new Christian (largely non-Jewish) community. So let’s first consider the significance of Sabbath.
--What is Sabbath: rule/Law to cease from work on the “seventh” day.
--Sabbath calls us to behave like God
--God worked for 6 days, then rested; so we work and rest.
--Because we are formed in the Image of God, we are to behave like God
--so what is God like? … well that is a larger matter—perhaps which comes into better focus as we move on.
--Sabbath reminds us of our contingency on God—because we are in God’s Image we depend upon God for our sustenance.
--Sabbath practices the hope of an egalitarian community. It reminds us that because we are all in God’s image, the rich, the poor, even slaves and aliens, are to rest, and all be reminded they too behave like God and bear God’s image. And in the the largess of God’s blessing upon us, we extend our wealth to ensure the rest and feasting of the marginal among us—as God has done for us.
--with this in mind, the Sabbath can be imagined as a time where we ritually imagine and inhabit the prophetic reality of all people together acting as God acts, regarding one another as co-inheritors of God’s image and presence in this world, enjoying together the bounty that blesses the rich and the poor, indiscriminately
--Sabbath is a picture of God’s way in the world where the Last are made First, and the First/Last.
--For these reasons, it was mandated as an essential part of their identity for the Community of Faith to rest from work on the Sabbath, and to enjoy the bounty of life lived together. And it is within this context that we return to Luke’s ruminations on the lord of the sabbath.
--is it lawful to do the work of healing on the Sabbath? The religious leaders previously have challenged Jesus on this point before (Chapter 13), and here Jesus inverts the situation calling on them to answer.
--Now we know that there are very serious laws and customs built around the tradition of honoring Sabbath, so it is no simple thing for a leader, whose identity, authority, and position are wrapped up in the maintenance of this to answer.
--This is a litmus test. To answer this wrong is to risk exclusion from God’s people. Will we give the wrong answer, saying it is OK to violate Sabbath? Do we run the risk of encouraging all the people to simply do as they will—like children, or is it better and even more caring to admonish the crowds to do what is “right”?
--It is worth asking ourselves what litmus tests we confront today: Can those who are more conservative or liberal than us truly worship together? Can gays and lesbians have full inclusion in the Church?
--Jesus’ response is that the Law of God is not simply about Rule Keeping, it is about People Keeping. We know we honor the Law of God if our actions bring life, healing, restoration and liberation. If our insistence upon a “right” way to be results in the alienation or hurt of others, it is not born from God’s law.
--Jesus behaves like God, bringing new life and healing so that another human can truly have rest upon the Sabbath.
--and so we see that Luke shows us: to be like Jesus is to honor the law of God. And to honor the laws of God is to participate in the healing of this world. We recognize and restore the image of God in one another, and we discover that God’s love empowers us.
--This sounds nice, and right—and it IS! But there is also a parable here. And parables have a way of catching us out. We often come to a parable feeling like we are on the side of God, and we often walk away troubled, unsure in some ways. Often we are simultaneously comforted and joyous, and also profoundly challenged by an ever higher call.
--We should embrace these ambiguities and meditate upon them, allowing the ways of God to ever speak to us, teach us, and challenge us.
--So Jesus here tells a parable and gives what seems to simply be wise advice. Don’t show up at a feast and assume the seat of highest honor: Just think how shameful and embarrassing it will be to be moved down the row! Rather, be wise, seek the lower seat, and then you will be honored when the host invites you close. Honestly, pretty good advice.
--Have you ever been at an awards ceremony and felt convinced that the anonymous person they are describing is yourself? I have. Nearly any time anyone is going to be honored—even if I know the honor has nothing to do with me—i believe that they will call out my name, thank me for being generally awesome, and send me on my way to the great applause and admiration of everyone. Perhaps this is just me. Not so bad when that aspiration lives only in our head—but woe to me if I stand up and start walking to the podium before the announcement is made! It is much safer to remain Walter Mitty and dream my days away—So I heed Jesus’ advice on such occasions.
--But on a more serious note, these Sabbath meals, like most sacrifices in the Bible, are a way of sharing with others the blessings God has given: so much that it allows us to take a whole day off from work. What better way to Honor God than to throw a big, rich expensive feast!?! and I can invite all those pretenders who think THEY’VE been blessed! So I use the feast that celebrates our common humanity, and God’s generosity, and I use that feast to esteem myself most—to make sure everyone knows I’ve been blessed more than them. Maybe I gain favor and stature. I ensure myself a nice seat when my rival throws his own feast. Suddenly this feast becomes an insidious thing; a celebration of hoarding and avarice. And I have the GALL to challenge whether Jesus’ healing is lawful? When my very actions celebrate hoarding, social posturing and self-protection, and deny the full humanity of those who suffer, and suffer from want who are near me… well. Well, what is that?
--So we can see a bit of what Jesus is on about here. Good thing I know better than to seek honor for myself. Good thing I would never openly oppress another person to make my own feast grander. And good thing I would never do that in God’s name.
--Well...at least not today, but maybe I will tomorrow. By wrestling with the reality that I am very much still a broken, fragile person, who still strives to gain honor, security and admiration, I may be molded into a humbler, more loving ambassador of Jesus’ love.
--Jesus’ parable commends us to invite the poor, the lame, the alien to our table and let them enjoy in the goodness of God’s blessing. It seems that only here, where there can be no expectation of repayment, do we honor the Image of God.
--Now if you know you will come to a party you would not be accorded honor in keeping with your person, would you even attend? Would I participate in a church where I know that those less educated, less socially well-healed, or less theologically correct might be honored more highly than I? Would I stay in a church run by fishermen?
--The world would say we should seek like-minded fellows, but Jesus calls the basis of our like-mindedness to be in a loving humility. Don’t seek the honor and security of being in the “right” group; rather find your security in behaving like God, who loves and restores all Humans, and through this love helps make us whole. What of that?
--Our categories of honor are perhaps different these days, and so we really must meditate upon the truths of these stories. We should allow them to challenge us, we should discuss and debate them with one another in communities of trust and faith, we should wrestle with God in the silence of our souls.
---We will often feel to have failed, or or that we are incapable of such a high calling, and just then we may feel the uplifting arms of God’s love and acceptance of us, or an opportunity to be a vessel of God’s love toward an enemy, or another who could never repay you.
--It is in this vulnerability that we discover truly who we are: contingent beings, loved, fragile and formed together into a community that reflects God’s love, an alternative reality; a prophetic community that continually reminds us and the world that there is a New way; a way of being Truly Human.
--Consider what is perhaps the oldest hymn of the early church, from the letter to the Philippians: “Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Instead, he emptied himself taking on the form of a servant, even unto death. Therefore we are called to do nothing out of selfish ambition, or vain conceit—but rather consider others before yourself. Look to others’ interests, not merely your own.”
--Jesus shows us, and challenges us, what it looks like to behave like God. We do not have to constantly strive and seek position, security, and honor; we do not have to worry about always having the moral or intellectual high ground.
--If we know we are made in God’s Image, and we love those near us as those who also bear God’s Image, we will fulfill God’s law, and we will experience the Sabbath rest. A Rest from so much striving and hate that is the World.
--I certainly have not exhausted the truths of even this passage; together though we may go forth as contemplatives in action, meditating on the ways of Jesus’ kingdom, and bringing healing and love to a world in desperate need of a true Sabbath.
--I pray that wee each bear in our hearts the challenge Jesus puts before us. Let us carry the challenge and not grow complacent; rather, regularly meditating and discovery where God’s call upon us can form into ever more loving and humble Humans: May our lives bear our God’s presence in this world.
August 21, 2022
Jeremiah 1: 4-10
Luke 13: 10-17
Jeremiah - a prophet, known as the weeping prophet, whose name means God Will Uplift.
We just heard the story of God coming to Jeremiah when he was just a young man, probably no more than a teenager, according to Jeremiah “the Lord came to me saying, ‘I appoint you as a prophet to the nations.’”
Jeremiah was chosen by God… God told him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.”
There are other stories of chosenness in the Bible. There is Abraham and Sarah; Moses and Miriam, David, Esther, Paul, and of course, Mary – and many more. God is always choosing people. Author Father Richard Rohr says that “God’s chosenness is for the sake of communicating chosenness to everybody else!” God needs people – God needs those who are to be willing instruments – for the sake of others.
For many years, here at Maple Grove, when Bill Croy was our Senior Pastor and Laurie Clark our associate pastor, Our Hands are Christ’s hands was our sort of byline. It was; Maple Grove – Our hands are Christ’s hands. It was our reminder that we are needed as willing instruments for God. Whether it inspired by the Saint Teresa of Avila’s (Ah vee lah) prayer Christ Has No Body, or not, I associate it with that and I want to read that prayer to you now…
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Saint Teresa knew we were chosen to be the body of Christ. It’s in everyone’s job description.
Jeremiah’s particular chosenness was that of prophet, and he was appointed to “uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” And God assured him “I am with you.”
Jeremiah was to serve the people of Israel, to help bring them back into right relationship with God. He called them out for breaking their covenant with God, he told them they weren’t living up to the Torah and they were living in violation of the Laws, that the most vulnerable people; the widows, orphans and immigrants – were being taken advantage. Jeremiah delivered the message of God’s judgment and warned them that they would suffer and be forced into exile.
Even with all that said, with harsh consequences before them, Old Testament scholar and theologian, Walter Bruggeman, says that being prophetic is not to be shaming, criticizing, nagging, or scolding – it is to speak of new possibilities. A prophet’s message carries with it a message of hope and grace.
Bruggeman says that prophets put visioning front and center, “they offer an alternative consciousness.” He says they are to “nurture, nourish and evoke a Yahweh consciousness.” They are sent to dismantle the dominate consciousness and to plant and raise up, an alternative one. The prophet knows, they insist, that society could be other than it is, better than it is.
Prophets imagine something beyond what already is. Another way of saying it is that they share God’s dream with people. Author and pastor Brian McLaren reframes the familiar phrase God’s will be done, into God’s dream come true. Jeremiah was saying to the people of Israel …. God dreams of a better life for you, God dreams of peace for you, of justice for you, of compassion, cooperation, reconciliation, and of freedom for you. God dreams of relationship with you.
When I was in college at Ohio State University, I took an art history course. During that course there was one work of art that rattled me a bit, causing me to examine my own thinking. It was a sculpture; I couldn’t locate a photo of it to tell you the name of it or the artist. But as I recall, it was made from bent and formed metal, and it was a bunk bed in what appeared to be an institutional setting and there was a figure of a person, lying on the bottom bed and there was a thought bubble above the person of what was going on in their mind as they laid there in bed. And inside the thought bubble, was the exact image of the person lying in bed. I was struck by the idea of not being able to imagine anything more than one’s current circumstances.
To be sure there are times we all are unable to see alternatives, or to imagine new possibilities for our lives and for our world. And that is when we most need prophetic imagination. Of seeing God’s dream for us.
In the Luke story we heard today, Jesus saw an alternative to what had always been when he knowingly broke the laws of the Sabbath and healed the woman who had been bent over for 18 years.
Father Richard Rohr says that the “best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.”
Jesus practiced the better when he said to the men ready to stone the women who had been caught in an act of adultery, “Let him who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” And when against societal taboos, Jesus had a conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus practiced the alternative consciousness when he entered the tax-collectors house to join him for dinner and again when he touched the leper. Jesus lived a Yahweh consciousness. One in which God uplifts.
In the 12th century Francis Bernardone walked away from a life focused on power, prestige, and possessions in order to live an alternative life, of simplicity, focused on God and in harmony with all creation as St. Francis of Assisi.
God needs people to share God’s dream, to walk the path, to show what’s possible. God needs people who will let others know that God knows us well, and God loves us, God has good plans for us, desires and dreams for us, God calls to us, God will be with us and work with us to bring about God’s good. God wants, dreams of, desires relationship with us and one another.
In chapter 29 of Jeremiah, he writes to the elders who have been carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, they have been forced from a land they treasured, it’s gone and it is not coming back and he tells them, where you are now “Build houses; plant gardens, marry seek peace, and pray for Babylonians well-being.” And he messages of comfort and assurance from God saying “I know the plans I have for you, plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.”
Explaining what today’s world has in common with the book of Jeremiah, Walter Brueggemann said, “Ours, like the time of Jeremiah, is a time of violence, it’s a time of loss, it’s a time of bewilderment, it’s a time of fear, and I think that the book of Jeremiah gives voice to all of that, and before it finishes, it also manages to give voice to hope.”
One way to help us find hope, is to be what Barbara Brown Taylor calls “detectives of Divinity.” We need imagination, to believe in the possibility of God’s dream for us. That may mean looking out into the world for signs of Yahweh consciousness and with Yahweh consciousness. Like when I heard Scarlett Lewis, the mother of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, who was killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting, speaks and writes about Nuturing, Healing, Love – the words her son Jesse had written on the chalkboard in their home days before he died.
Or when I read about more than 1,000 Norwegian Muslims forming a human shield they called a “ring of peace” to protect a Jewish place of worship in Oslo in the wake of a synagogue attack.
And in London, when a neighborhood watch group called ‘Shomrin’ (Hebrew for guards) protects Muslims against hate crimes.
Or when in 2017, through the support of the West Ohio Conference and Maynard Ave church, the “Welcome Home” program began and offers supportive relationships to women impacted by incarceration.
Or when I found out on Friday that Ryan Van Bibber, of our AV team, has started an organization in order to provide scholarships for Columbus city school students so they have an opportunity to participate in otherwise unaffordable educational programs.
Or even when one-night last week, while sitting at home, intently focused on my computer screen I received a text from one of our Maple Grove homeless friends, telling me to look up at the rainbow.
Being detectives of divinity, doesn’t deny real world problems. And yet, it views the world through the lens of promise, fall, redemption and resurrection. It takes the pain and brokenness, suffers with, grieves for, and rises in love and resurrects through God’s grace.
To paraphrase Bruggeman; imagination from a Christian sense, “requires great will and great intentionality and great resolve to continue to bear witness to a world that contradicts the rest of our life.”
We are all chosen is to participate in the dream of God.
August 14, 2022
What if the Universe is the Body of God?
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Dona Nobis Pacem
Bring us Peace.
You know that I was at Chautauqua in New York state
last month, and this week’s attack
on a speaker there, Salman Rushdie,
has left me quite shaken.
But together with the horror,
I am also moved,
moved by the accounts, that, when the attack began,
the whole audience seemed to rise and move toward the stage,
toward the violence, and dozens of regular folks,
leapt up onto the stage
toward an angry man with a knife to stop him.
to try bring peace.
Dona nobis pacem.
This morning, at this moment,
thousands of all faiths have gathered there for worship
in that amphitheater
as they come to terms with the violence that filled
that one-time Methodist Missionary retreat.
Let us pause for a moment of silence with them.
There is criticism for that amphitheater’s openness
even if that is what the speaker preferred,
but openness is part of what life and faith
seems to require of us
as challenging and risky as that is.
My week there brought challenges to heart and mind
part of a summer of great personal spiritual discovery.
including encounters with wondrous teachers,
and study of scripture
which has brought a profound evolving of my
understanding of the nature of God, creation,
Jesus of Nazareth, and the Christ.
Openness changes everything.
Meanwhile, this summer
the James Webb Telescope,
has been sending us from deep space,
images five so far,
with revelatory detail
that are changing our way of looking at the universe.
And today, I am putting these adventures together
Inviting you to travel with me
into the cosmos,
to give yourself time to see what is there,
and, with our scriptures and help from
wise teachers, Richard Rohr, Thomas Merton and Karl Rahner,
to open ourselves to be witnesses of
the beauty and love of the God of heaven and earth.
Genesis 1: 1-5.46. 20.
“In the beginning when God created[a] the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void
and darkness covered the face of the deep,
while a wind from God[b] swept over the face of the waters.
3 Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.
4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness, Night.
And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”
Everything visible, without exception,
has come forth from God’s own being.
Matter is the eternal, outflowing movement
of divine presence into the physical world.
The universe is the body of God.
God is everything that was,
everything that is,
God is reality with a loving face,
and God is that power that is love,
that binds everything together.
the word means– “brought into one”
We arise out of the oneness that we call God.
and all the uni-verse revolves around
one coherent center.
Not a fixed point,
but a divine presence
that centers everywhere
and circumferences nowhere.
A center that
connects and communes
and invites us, .
into conscious union
with all that God has made
and God’s own being
in which we live.
Here is the image astronomers are calling
The clearest and deepest view we
have ever had of the universe.
Those disks of light,
aren’t individual stars
they are galaxies,
and there are billions more than we thought there were,
each, like our own Milky Way,
teaming with a hundred thousand million stars and solar systems.
When we look at this field,
we are looking back in time,
You see those red ones?
Some of those were formed
within a few billion years of the big bang
Their light has reached us,
but they are long since stardust.
What a wonder.
And if it I wondrous to us,
Surely God who has given us the capacity to wonder.
is in love with this universe.
As Genesis tells us,
God found it all good:
the first star that lit the sky
the waters that flowed,
the first fish that swam in the seas,
and the original fauna
God is in intimate kinship
with all that is made.
Since the beginning of time,
God’s spirit has been spinning out
glory and goodness.
God’s endlessly diverse energy and spirit
is visible in
every bird and leaf,
and the light from every star
and every story.
born of God,
all inherently holy and beloved.
St Francis of Assisi looked at the heavens and earth
and claimed kinship with all he saw.
Brother Sun, Sister Moon.
Brother Fire, Sister Water,
We are not alone, You are not your own,
we are inherently connected
to all things, to one another,
to the most distant of galaxies
All things have a place
all of us have a place in the heart of God
if we believe this,
and trust this
then we never need be truly lonely again
We search the heavens for signs of life
as we know it:
air, water, carbon,
We hope for it
and we dread it.
For if we find other life,
especially conscious life out there,
what would that mean
for our story,
for the story of Jesus,
our earth’s place in all that is?
Yet, if all that is
flows from God’s own being;
if we all live in the body of God,
then we are not in competition
for God’s attention.
There are no insiders and outsiders
We are a part of main,
a piece of the whole.
You are an irreplaceable,
permanent and beloved member
of the reality of God.
The only really absolute mysteries
are the self-communication of God
in the depths of existence –
which we call grace-
and in history –
which we call Christ.
Karl Rahner, priest and theologian.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2
He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
The Christ, writes Paul,is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; The Christ is before all things, and in Christ all things hold together. 18
came forth in Jesus of Nazareth:
matter and spirit together,
making holy mystery visible.
revealed the essential, universal truth
of God as love,
embodied that love for us,
invited the disciples into a new community
to love one another
just as we are loved beyond boundaries.
And so challenged our human ways
that limit and restrict God.
To accept this required openness and change,
some could not and took his mortal life,
yet he still illuminates everything,
and through him we learn that the path of
life and death and resurrection
is the way of all creation,
of every star and creature,
of every one of us.
Life, death and resurrection –
is the way we grow and change
and deepen in love and understanding.
It is the way of the divine heart.
If there is life elsewhere,
life, death and resurrection
is the way there, too.
Praise the Lord, all ye children of the earth
Let heaven and earth bless the Lord
who is leading us somewhere good.
August 7, 2022
What if the Church is Always Trying to Come to us From the Future?
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Luke 11: 1-13
I am coming out of COVID,
It first took my voicebox,
so I sounded like Barry White,
That was almost two weeks ago,
the fever is long gone, and I’m not COVID positive anymore,
and I couldn’t give this virus to you if I tried,
but my ears feel full, and is head is buzzing,
and its hard to think.
So, my pondering this week has been with
plugged ears and slowed mind,
and I keep coming back to that healing story
where Jesus puts his fingers in the ears of a deaf man
and says, “Ephatha!” Be opened!
And thinking: That’s what I need,
and then wondering: maybe that’s what we all need
maybe that’s the whole deal
for me, for you, for this whole wonderous thing
that is the church.
I attended a wonderful lecture at Chautauqua,
by a Jewish theologian and rabbi named Shaul Magid,
who talked about how our religious communities are
rooted in our history,
our ancient stories and rituals and buildings,
give religion authority.
Think: How many businesses have opened
and closed on this street
in the last 100 years?
How many empires have come and gone in the last 2000?
and the church stands
We have survived a lot
learned a lot,
hurt some, helped a lot: universities began
by Christians, hospitals, too,
so much wonderous, transformative
work in the world.
But our long history can also be a weight.
The culture is always moving,
scientific breakthroughs are expanding our knowledge
technology is endlessly connecting us.
Identity and family life in evolving
in interesting and often liberating ways,
but also, in ways that are really challenging.
And in here, in our institutions,
things don’t change as fast as out there.
because we carry this weight of history around us.
And there are people who get frustrated at how intransigent
we seem to be, how incremental our change,
how big our reach into laws and mores.
They would like to be part of a community that gives hope
and meaning and connection to ultimate reality, but
They see our minds as closed and our ears stopped, and
our theology irrelevant to their lives.
So, find their identity and belonging
and a sense of purpose in other places.
Meanwhile there have always been minds and hearts
on the inside of the church, the synagogue, the mosque,
people that know our intrinsic goodness and say:
What if there is something to this challenge?
What if God is in it?
What if it’s the spirit of Christ
that is calling us to a better homeland.
a new creation?
When that makes us nervous we call those challenges
Give me that old time religion, we might sing
and there is goodness in the old, too.
But listen to what this letter to Hebrews says about our ancestors:
who struggled with tremendous change:
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen?
If our ancestors had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 1
6 But as it is, they desire a better homeland”
What happens when we, as persons, as the church,
ask the the spirit of the Risen Christ
to some how put their fingers in our ears
and say Ephatha, Be opened
and to pray, as Jesus taught us:
Let your kingdom come.
What would we look like?
What would the church of the Risen Christ
I’ve spent time this summer learning from
Fr. Greg Boyle who has spent 30 years in L.A.
creating a community of faith and hope
for generational gang members
caught up in that violence to the body and spirit.
It may not appear so on the outside,
but there is a longing in these people,
these brothers and sister,
the same that is in you
and that was in our ancestors
for another homeland,
one, full of grace, that is calling to them
Those who respond to the invitation from Father Greg
to join Homeboy Industries
are given the dignity of work, and therapy and community,
given freedom to be vulnerable to their own deep pain
Rather than return to the land they left behind,
they lay down the weight of their history
for a better land.
And something happens.
In response to each, small, loving act ,
they begin to move, little by little,
from their small selves to their true selves.
it is, in every sense, the church,
the word made flesh.
Once, Father Boyle was to get an award
at a Catholic University in San Francisco.
but wasn’t able to go to the ceremony,
so he invited one of the Homeboys
named Pasqual Pena
to accept it on his behalf.
Pasqual was overjoyed.
Oh, and you will also have to give an acceptance speech
Oh no, I’m not going to do that.
Just write out a little thing to say.
I’m too scared.
Pasqual gets there, its standing room only,
“…and accepting the award for Fr. Greg is Pasqual Pena…”.
and he had this little piece of lined paper
and he was trembling,
and he shares his story, and ends by saying:
“Because Fr. Boyle at Homeboy industries believed in me,
I decided to believe in myself
and the best way I can think of paying him back
is by changing my life
and that’s exactly what I did.”
And now people are standing up and applauding and crying
and goes on for a long while.
and he says, to the person next to him.
Damn, they are sure clapping a lot for Fr. Greg.
No, they are clapping for you.
Yeah... they are clapping for you.
When we witness someone
claiming the new homeland,
and see and hear the transformation:
the goodness, the joy that brings,
we weep with relief
that the promises are true.
Ephatha, says Jesus,
be opened, he says to us
Your kingdom come, we say to God
The God of the unfolding, expanding universe believes
in us, in you, in us together.
The Creator of all time and space
all matter, dark and light
has poured Christ’s spirit out into us,
and invites us to be the church
a community of boundless compassion
for all the earth
The church of the Risen Christ, the new homeland,
is always coming to us from the future,
We can turn back
to the land we’ve left behind.
or we can allow our smaller selves
to become our truer selves,
our narrow church for an even wider church,
our amazing history
for an even greater, cosmic story,
expansive in love and mercy,
where holiness is everywhere
even in us.
And who wouldn’t want to be part of that!
Be open, says Jesus to us.
Your kingdom come, O God, we pray.
and the people say. Amen.
July 24, 2022
What if Tenderness is the Only Path to Mutual Transformation?
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Mark 5: 1-20
Before I sent up to Chautauqua for few days,
I’d had an encounter with a man that had seared me.
was on our patio,
and was, clearly very unwell,
but he would not go to the safe place
Its not safe for you here, and its not safe for people
to be around you.
I tried to say it with both clarity and compassion, but
he left, pretty angry.
and I didn’t know where he was,
and I was wretched.
I went up to Chautauqua
to hear and see Fr. Gregory Boyle who founded Homeboy
Industries, who gives people jobs and hope
helping thousands of people
find a way out of gang life
and the cycle of incarceration
Fr. Boyle spoke of Meister Eckart,
a Dominican priest of the 13th century Germany
who countered the prevalent image of an angry
vindictive, violent God, saying:
any talk of God that doesn’t comfort you is a lie.
God is love, and we all receive the tender glance of God
Fr Greg spoke of Ignacious of Loyola, a Spanish Priest in the 1400s
and the word Ignacious used describe how God looks at us:
Accaciamento, to look with attention,
with “affectionate awe.”
We know that God looks at us this way,
because we meet Jesus in these stories
and nowhere more powerfully than this one
told by Mark and Luke,
Jesus has crossed over the sea of Galilee
This is not his home turf, these are not his homies.
The whole purpose of this trip,
seems to find this man who lives among the tombs,
and inflicts harm upon himself
They have tried chaining him,
locking him up, like we tend to do here,
but he gets out of those chains
and hurts himself even more.
“What have you do to with me, Jesus of Nazareth,
don’t torment me”
with your words of hope and love and peace,
there is no peace,
and you can’t possibly love me
and I know you can’t help me.
we are legion, there’s too much.
it’s all too much.
there are so many who feel this way,
whose pain and inner doubts, borne of trauma,
where no one soothed their pain,
and now they cannot do this for themselves
I spent a long time yesterday with a person,
borne into brokenness, who lashed out at me,
and my words of love and support,
seemed to him, taunting.
It took everything in me to stay the course,
it is scary to face the swirling struggle in someone.
in my own self, .
to transform my frustration at brokenness
into tenderness for the broken one.
Fr. Boyle brings members of his team with him,
Homeboys, or homies, they call one another,
and one time he brought Raul.
Saul had done 12 years in prison, he’d suffered a lot,
and was working in the bakery
and Fr. said, come on with me to Boston.
and he teared up, and blessed him
One afternoon, Father Boyle told us
Saul, had gone off to look around the city
and was taking a picture of himself by an historic courthouse,
and some feet from him there was a little bench, and two older, unhoused men,
were sitting there.
One guy says, Don’t take my picture,
who told you could take my picture.
and the other guy says,
Relax, he’s just taking a selfie,
but he continues to rant, .
And Fr. Boyle says that Saul,
rather than backing away from the hostility,
approaches it. and looks at these two men and says,.
Hi, my name is Saul, I’m from Los Angeles.
I don’t care where you are from, don’t take my picture,
and the other man says,
Don’t mind us, we’re crazy.
And Saul extends his hand to the one who was screaming
and says, That’s okay, I’m crazy, too.
and he finds out that the guy’s name is Louie,
and the other man is Bill,
and they talk for some time.
Finally, its time for Saul to leave.
and the one who was yelling, says, now
in a different tone and stillness.
He says, Saul, I’ve lived my whole life in Boston,
you need directions or something?
Saul had crossed the seas, had looked upon the broken man
with affectionate awe,
Louis felt seen and cherished, held and carried.
It was the comfort of the God of all comfort.
Jesus is standing
in the lowly place, says Ignacius of Loyola,
Not outside the area pointing to it, but in the lowly place
And Fr. Boyle elaborates:
he is serenely standing there with the poor, the powerless,
the voiceless, whose dignity has been denied,
with the easily despised and the readily left out,
he is standing with the demonized
so the demonizing will stop.
and with the disposable,
so the day will come
when we stop throwing people away.
He is there not so much
to comfort the poor in their powerlessness.
But a comfort that reminds them of their power,
a comfort that holds and carries us all.
No, you don’t come with me,
Jesus says to the man who was now well,
but go and tell the people in your own place
what the Lord has done for you,
what mercies God has shown you.
God looks at us with affectionate awe,
looks at you
looks at the person in your life who is struggling
in ways you can’t seem to fix,
with affectionate awe
knowing we all want to be well
To believe this, to practice this, changes us, too.
A homeboy named Raul told Father Boyle,
“What happened to me yesterday
never happened to me before.
The train was packed but he was able to get a seat
and there was an older guy, a homie, a little drunk,
and he sees the sweatshirt, and says,
You work at Homeboy, is it any good?
and Raul says, It helped me,
in fact, I don’t think I’m every going back to prison because of this place,
And Raul stands, and asks the guy his name,
and he pulls out. piece of paper and
writes down the address of Homeboy Industries.
and he looks him in the eye and says,
Come see us, we’ll help you.
and the man said gently, thank you.
and then gets off
Raul sits down.
What happens to me next, he told Fr. Boyle
has never happened to me before,
Everyone on the train was staring at me,
was nodding at me,
Everyone on the train was smiling at me,
and for the first time in my life,
I was admired.
What if tenderness is the only way to mutual transformation….
The whole world is barricaded, says Fr. Boyle
What if the only thing that can scale that wall is tenderness.
I am so grateful to be there, with them,
and among this community where we are learning to practice that tenderness
that affectionate awe.
Some, I hope most of you have received a letter that informs you
that the church was the victim of a
sophisticated business email compromise
that resulted in loss of money.
We had a meeting with leaders on Wednesday,
and shared what happened,
and what we have done and are doing about it,
and the question came quickly:
How do we help other churches not experience this
and folks were gratified to hear that we are working on that.
The wound moved so quickly to compassion,
to tenderness for others,
and my gaze upon those gathered turned to affectionate awe.
And I hope that when our friend comes back to the patio,
that will be my gaze,
and I will remember that he wants to be well,
and that God is a God of comfort,
and infinite tenderness,
who, if we allow it,
will bring forth that goodness in us.
May it be so. Amen.
July 10, 2022
What if We Lived with a Calm and Hopeful Trust?
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Scripture: Luke 10: 38-42
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
I can’t literally remember an easy week,
Maybe not since Christmas have we been able to sing
“all is calm, all is bright.”
so I’m quite envious of Mary
having this time with Jesus.
I wonder what they were discussing
Maybe he had a question, something like:
How is it with you?
Maybe she had one that he answered,
There are plenty I would ask him, particularly:
Will things be alright
for all who suffer and struggle
for me, for those we love, all of us?
Perhaps she didn’t have to ask anything,
he would have just looked at her, and she knew
the answers to her questions.
Anyway, its really how Jesus must have made her feel
that I envy:
That at she is valued
that her questions are valid,
that her heartbreak is legit and shared by God.
Of course, were Jesus at my house,
I’d probably be busy cleaning.
There is always so much to do
it is constant, and endless
and there is no avoiding it.
Even though I can hear Jesus say,
consider the lilies
and the birds of the air
There is no end to work.
We hear that anxiety is prevalent into every age
And every nation,
Fear of both the present and the future.
Is, a poet said,
a small trickle
that meanders through the mind
until it cuts a channel into which all other
thoughts are drained."
Guess what is the most common phrase in the bible?
“Do not be afraid.”
Someone counted: its there 365 times!
one for every day of the year
I’m no numerologist, but I’m wondering
if that’s no coincidence.
I bet Jesus would say something like that if he were here…
And I am, we are, like Martha, distracted…
How close is your phone right now?
How quickly does attention disappear
with the ring of a call, the ding of a text?
And if we don’t charge our phone,
We get scolded, if silently:
why didn’t you look at your text,
listen to your message.
hear this news?
The internet that comes to us in all forms, brings an overload of
information, both important and not so,
so that any kind of central focus
is instantly eroded,
And we get accustomed to that,
maybe addicted to it.
Paul Tillich said:
"There are innumerable concerns in our lives
and human life generally,
which demand attention, devotion, passion.
But they do not demand
They are important, often very important,
for you and me and the whole of humankind.
But they are not ultimately important...."
It may seem unbearably simple,
And you don’t have to have Jesus at your table.
God comes to you, says Fr. Richard Rohr,
disguised as your life.
So, we have to do one thing: fully experience it.
There is, for each of us, at least most of us,
A great, secret hurt
that we carry,
that we may not even realize
or be able to name.
one which Jesus would see
that the Christ knows.
If God comes to us as our life,
shall we not honor and receive that grief
as well as that joyful fullness,
or that profound longing that we experience
in this life,
and allow ourselves to realize that
it is part of the sadness and fullness and longing
Jesus may not be coming to dinner,
but we can meet the incarnate one,
in the depths of our own selves,
in observing and honoring the depth of our own
experience as human beings,
created by God.
We can our offer lives,
offer our workload and worry and distractions
place our lives, full of gaps and holes,
at the center of our consciousness
and, as if Jesus is before us,
allow the love that radiates from him
to Mary and Martha
radiate now to you, as the Christ.
Catch your breath,
feel your hurt,
sense how you are falling
and that which is holding you
and helping you to endure.
Be in awe before the simple truth of your existence,
wonder at the depth and eternity of it
and an incomprehensible love
that can, release you from your busyness
and worry and distraction
if only for a moment.
To trust, as Fr. Rohr says,
that there is a river.
The river is flowing
And that you are in it,
That we are in it
And allow that trust, that calm and hopeful trust
to grow in you
that you can tend, and help others to find.
Since my father died,
the person who has been the one who leads
me into the presence of Christ
is a wonderful old priest –
I have taken nearly every confirmation class I ever led
to walk a prayer labyrinth with him
to feel that fully accepting love
radiating out of him,
as Mary felt in the presence of Jesus.
Vinny is one of the priests whom the new bishop
so I will not have him
to physically go to, anymore.
But, he would remind me,
as Jesus reminds Martha,
to remember that our lives are lived
in the presence of eternal love.
As the carol says,
Love has come, a light in the darkness,
love has come and never will leave us
let us remember that,
let us find a calm and hopeful trust
and be not afraid.
Rev. Patricia A. Wagner
July 3, 2022
What if Christ is in All Of Us
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Galatians 3: 26-29
Its good to sing a Christmas hymn in July
halfway between Christmases
We may be fretting about the price of everything
and the downturn in the stock market,
but Christmas brings stories of a poor savior
born in a stable,
and Bob Cratchits’ family rejoicing
in each other and their modest feast,
and the Grinch realizing what matters.
What matters, we all realize at Christmas
is the most important truth that we will ever know:
God poured Godself into one like us,
and we understand
ourselves and God
and the universe
and who we can be, through him.
Just as in Jesus’ time and in his life,
there is adversity and discouragement
and doubt and death,
But there is a light that has been made known to us
that nothing can erase.
That the light that was in the beginning with God
came into the world in Jesus,
and remains in the world, in us, in Christ.
That’s the message at Christmas,
then why is it so hard to believe in July?
Just like how Christmas decorations seem quaint
and faintly ridiculous when left up too long,
that profound optimism,
that sense of the profound goodness of creation
can feel like a fairytale, or worse
a mocking those who suffer in the present.
We put up the title of our summer series:
“What if everything is going somewhere good,”
on the sign outside.
The idea, as you know is
to encourage an openness to a reality
beyond us, and around us,
and in us,
even in devastating times
that is leading us toward the good.
But on a week with seismic shifts
for environmental regulation, abortion,
rights of privacy,
church and state rules,
shooting death of police officers
and the migrants dying in the heat
and the bombing of Odessa,
a woman called,
left me a personal, blistering voice message
that she was so stunned by the words on our sign,
that she had to pull her car over
to get her breath,
So angry was she at our obvious obliviousness
to climate change among other things,
how dare we say
“ everything is going somewhere good.”?
when everything is going to hell.
She had even gone back, taken a picture of the sign,
and posted it to Twitter, to shared outrage.
I could hear the tremendous pain,
and it made me terribly sad.
Know that I am very sad whenever I cause you pain,
by my action or inaction.
I called her back and I thanked her for telling me,
told her I was sorry for the hurt I’d caused her,
and tried to explain our intention,
to find a greater hope
it wasn’t something she could hear,
I let her know I would change the sign
since grief and anger was not what I had hoped to instill.
It’s not just this year that optimism is hard to hear;
humans, including Americans
have always had reason to despair.
In the heat of the American war in Vietnam
and the brutal Civil Rights struggle
with Dr. Martin Luther King, jr
told us that the arc of the moral universe
but it bends toward justice.
Maybe a bit overly hopeful, some thought
then, some may think now.
There is a utopian ideal in Judeo-Christianity
Wolves shall lie down with the lambs
They shall study war no more on all my holy mountain
Blessed are those who meek
for they shall inherit the earth.
and our lesson today: Paul’s letter to the Galatians
that the old law which codified our ranks is obsolete
there is no language or culture
or status or gender,
there is neither Greek nor Jew
slave nor free
male or female
but all are one in Christ Jesus.
All these visions
are of a deeper , broader,
we see only now through a glass darkly
Divine love has poured out into creation from the beginning
and particularly in Jesus,
divine love, that word made flesh,
who did not abide by these distinctions,
who cared for men and women
gentile and Jew
and every status.
because, beyond his encounter with the Syrophenecian woman
those distinctions have no meaning to him
not in Jesus
Everything that is, as Richard Rohr says,
everything that is visible to us
is the divine outpouring of God’s own self
God’s being which is love:
everything, including you and I,
The Christ, in the beginning with God,
was poured out into the form of Jesus
who becomes the light of the world,
who teaches us that we are the light of the world
It’s a struggle for us to accept that
our life, is divine light and love outpoured
Jesus saw it in us,
even Paul saw it in us.
there is not religion or ethnicity or nationality
or gender that can bypass or surpass this truth,
The divine love that made us
claims all of us,
We are in Christ.
and Christ is in us, all.
including that woman who called me
She is right, to feel so, that is divine hurt in her,
for we have forgotten the holiness of the earth
assuming we have the some god-given right
to destroy people and the earth
if it meets our purpose.
So, not comprehending that the planet is in essence,
love outpoured, that humanity and creatures of the earth
is the great sin – falsely separating ourselves
from the one who has poured out Godself
into all of us.
So, there is work to do,
our work as Christ followers, of building hope,
and faith, and love,
proclaiming , practicing
that the earth is love made visible
and that this radiant, expansive
glorious reality of divine love
That Christ is within us and around us
and that the Creator of all that is
is with us, binding us together,
sharing our joys and our sorrows
guiding us toward a better way
and all that is good news
at Christmas and in July
and every season.
June 26, 2022
What if Our Resurrection Has Begun
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Luke 7: 11-17
Love that song-
There is such longing,
For the “corner of the sky”
Our place in God’s creation.
In the great cosmic story.
It’s hard to see where this cosmic story is going, isn’t it,
At least on this planet,
At least in this moment,
The preacher at our clergy session
Described what a lot of clergy have been experiencing.
There have been so many unexpected
And worrisome developments,
So many changes and disappointing heartbreaks,
So many unknowns, that have occurred
Over the past few years.
For the last weeks,
There’s no end in sight.
We’re worn out.
We’re worn down
And we’re not sure what to think about the future.
We’re not sure what or who we’re becoming
Or if it’s a very good thing at all.
So, and it that’s what clergy are feeling
If that’s maybe what you are feeling,
What Christians bring
To a whole world that is feeling this way.
Let’s see what the founder and perfector of our faith,
Has to say to us today.
Jesus is in Nain, a town about
About six miles from Nazareth,
And coming toward him is a funeral procession
Of a young man;
The only son of a woman
Who is also a widow.
His death has left her alone,
With no status, no means to support herself.
Her future is so uncertain.
And she is weeping.
I want you just to take that in for a moment,
Hear that in your mind,
Let her stand in for someone suffering now.
Perhaps for you,
Perhaps for a woman, or a man,
Anywhere in the world,
Ukraine, Ulvalde, Afghanistan
We reveal our humanity most plainly
In our weeping.
At every Annual Conference
There is a moment when the bishop is thanked
And this year,
After the person spoke of all that our bishop
Has done this past year,
Even as he lost his father to death.
The bishop, was so moved by the recognition of all
He’s been through
He began to weep, and could not stop.
And all those watching, felt something within
We felt with him, we felt for him.
This woman is weeping.
And Luke says, Jesus has compassion for her.
Compassion, translated from the rare Greek term,
meaning that his intestines were torn up.
Her situation tears him up inside.
Jesus of Nazareth
The incarnate presence of God upon this earth,
Feels her pain so deeply it hurts.
Does this not reveal something:
That God hears our weeping, our longing,
Knows we are worn out, worn down,
Whether we are we are poor widow, or a bishop
Or anyone else.
The Holy Spirit that resided in Jesus’ heart
Felt that woman’s hurt
And responded with loving power
Jesus touches the funeral bier,
On which the young man’s body was placed,
Young man I say to you, rise!
And the man, sit’s up,
And Jesus, says the scripture,
Gave him to his mother.
And suddenly, says Luke, the people watching were seized with fear,
They’d heard that he healed
But now he’d raised from death,
Which was terrifying and marvelous
And news spread, quickly, everywhere.
And Jesus knows that it’s a great risk
To reveal the power that’s beyond anything
Human beings on this earth have ever known
That power threatens those who assume
They have control of the people of the earth
But out of love, out of compassion for
Our human condition,
Jesus chooses to tear open the fabric between
Our time and all time.
For while we may think of resurrection
Healing into life, as an event,
Something we want for ourselves and loved ones
Once this mortal coil is shuffled off.
Jesus shows us that resurrection, healing into life
Is the great constant work of God
This ongoing, purposeful, becoming
Underscores all time,
And everything in all creation.
Resurrection is the essence of God’s
Love in action.
Jesus of Nazareth
In this simple, astounding story
Shows us the essence of God:
And this, now, as Christ’s body,
Is our work.
Fr. Greg Boyle works in Los Angeles
With men and woman who have sought
A family and protection in gangs
It is a precarious life, and death comes young.
One young man came to him, saying,
I want to live before I die.
He so wanted to rise,
Not in the next life,
But in this one
Death will come, in its time, to each,
It’s deadness in this one we fear.
And Father Boyle gave him work, and a new community,
He made new friends,
He found joy and purpose and peace,
Before, violence ended his life.
But he had lived before he died.
This longing to rise up,
Is, perhaps, God’s own longing in us
And our resurrections, God’s compassionate response
After Afghanistan returned to Taliban rule,
Young women and girls’ lives were severely restricted.
No longer allowed to attend school past just the early grades
I heard a recording of some young women,
Weeping over their loss, their sense of hopelessness.
But the radio documentary continued.
And teachers, women in Afghanistan and around the world
Felt great compassion
And they have set up online schools
And the girls gather in homes of those with internet
And they described what it felt like to learn
French and History and music
Even new dances
You could hear in their voices, such hope!
Even in the midst of uncertainty, they are becoming,
Their resurrection is happening.
After worship today, I’ll be heading over to Maynard Avenue
United Methodist Church,
It’s the last day for that building to be open.
They are selling that property and Summit UMC is selling theirs
And together they are forming a new church
Circle of Hope UMC
In North Linden, a place that needs an
Open, gracious, reconciling presence.
Resurrection is God’s Constant work in us,
In all of us, together,
And in each of us,
We will know it’s completion only at death,
But for now,
The charge is clear:
We are not to swim in cynicism and despair.
Consider what the Lord has done for you,
What mercies God has shown you,
When a way was made out of now way
When joy returned in the morning,
Lean into it, God can bear the weight of your life
The river of your tears,
Your worries are known, your longings are heard
And if Jesus of Nazareth
Could raise from the dead
Then the Christ that is in
All creation is raising you, too.
Raising Afghanistan, and Ukraine,
And Ulvalde and all those women facing new uncertainties
God is at work, Christ is in the world
And resurrection is happening,
Even there, even here, even now.
Thanks be to God. Amen
Jun 19, 2022
God Plays No Favorites
Rev. Jim Waugh
Acts 10: 9-16; 23-36
When was your last “aha” moment? What is an aha moment? Merriam-Webster defines it this way, “a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension.” It’s one of those moments that when experience it, it changes the way that look at an issue or maybe life itself. It is a moment of insight.
So, as we turn to the text that I read today, we find a big aha moment for Peter and for the early church, but also an aha for us in the church today. You know when an organization or a movement is just starting up, there are a lot of things you must figure out.
I have been involved for the last several months with the startup of a new group in Grove City. It is a new Pride organization – Pride in GC. This is the first time that a Pride group has organized in Grove City. Well, someone had to call a group together to begin the work of organizing the group and there are all kinds of questions:
· What is our target area?
· What is our mission?
· Do we organize as a 501.3c or 501.4c organization?
· Will we charge dues? How much?
· What about a logo?
· How about by-laws?
· Those are just a few of the questions that we had to deal with.
Well, it turns out that the early Christians had some pretty big questions on their plate after Jesus left and ascended into heaven. Even after they waited for the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon them at the day we now know as Pentecost as we celebrated a couple of weeks ago, there were still important matters to be decided.
Foremost among those questions for the early church was, “What about the Gentiles?” And that’s where the account in Acts 10 comes in for us today.
The biggest controversy in the first few years of the church was whether to fully include Gentiles as Gentiles, or whether they needed to be circumcised first.
The early church consisted of Jewish believers. The Gentiles were on the outside of that circle. There was a Biblical Law in Genesis 17:10, “Every male among you must be circumcised.” If a male was not circumcised, they were labeled as unclean. This was a stumbling block for many Gentiles in the first few years of the church because Gentiles were not circumcised.
So, before where I began reading in Chapter 10 today, Cornelius was introduced. He is described as a “thoroughly good man.” We are told that he led those in his household to live worshipfully before God. He helped those in need, and he was a man of prayer.
But –and this is a big BUT, Cornelius was a Roman. He was a Gentile, and on top of that he was a Roman soldier who occupying Israel. As someone has said, “Cornelius was about as kosher as a double bacon cheeseburger.” However, it was to this Roman Gentile that an angel appeared with a message that he should send for Peter who was staying in Joppa.
A few days later, Peter was about to experience his own vision when he went out on the balcony where he was staying in Joppa. He was hungry, and he was thinking about lunch. You never know what might happen when a man starts thinking about his next meal.
In this case as one writer says, “The apostle Peter had a vision while he was on a roof. He saw a sheet coming down from heaven – kind of like a big picnic blanket -- with many animals that according to Biblical Law were unclean. Peter wasn’t even allowed to touch those animals. But he heard God say to him, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ Peter replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ He always followed the kosher law.
Like any good Jew, Peter kept the Jewish dietary restrictions. Peter was being a good follower of the dietary laws. But God was changing Peter’s understanding of the law. God said to Peter, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Or as the Message version says, “The voice came a second time, ‘If God says okay, it’s okay.” This happened three times, and then the blanket was pulled back up into the skies. That blew Peter’s mind so much that God had to repeat it three times. After all, Peter was just following the law. And now God was doing something radically new!
As someone noted, “When Peter woke up from his vision, he realized that the message wasn’t merely about eating bacon.” At this point, as Peter struggles to understand what had just happened to him, he does not even know anything about this man Cornelius. Soon, however, he would receive the group of men whom Cornelius sent to summons Peter to Cornelius’ house.
We are told in the text that this group of men met Peter and took him to this Gentile’s home. When he entered Cornelius’ house, Peter said that it was unlawful for him to even be there, but then he flips the script of Biblical Law forever, “but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”
Peter then asked Cornelius why he had sent for him. Cornelius responded by sharing how God had given him a vision to request Peter’s presence and his message. So, with bated breath Cornelius and his household are now waiting to hear the message that God has put on Peter’s heart to share with them. As the Message version of this text reports, “Peter fairly exploded with his good news: “It’s God’s truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from – if you want God and are ready to do as (God) says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel – that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again – well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.”
Then, in the next portion of the scripture from Acts that we did not read today, Peter proceeds to share the message of what God had done in Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection and the work that the followers of Jesus were now sent out to do to proclaim this message.
We are told that the as soon as Peter finished his message, the Holy Spirit fell up Cornelius and those with him. The believing Jews with Peter couldn’t believe that the Gentiles had experienced the Holy Spirit. Peter then proceeds to baptize all the household of Cornelius as these Gentiles were now included in the family of faith of the early Christian church.
So, God is active here in this account of Peter and Cornelius. As one writer puts it, “God’s pastoral project is to bring us into an understanding of God’s will so that we may better collaborate with God in the work of salvation. The conversion of Cornelius takes Peter by surprise but not because God decides at the last moment to save an uncircumcised Gentile. As one writer says, “The universal embrace of divine love was promised to Abraham and prophesied by Scripture long before Cornelius was saved.”
But Peter still did not get it, his religious parochialism caused him to divide people into “clean” (repentant Jews) and “unclean” (uncircumcised Gentiles). God’s redemptive purpose for Gentiles could not be realized unless Peter changed his mind.
The issue here is by what manner does Peter learn God’s will to obey it and serve God’s redemptive interests. Peter’s story here helps in two ways in finding God’s will for our lives. Again, as one writer notes, “First, we learn of God’s will from God rather than from our own resources – Peter says, ‘God has shown me” --- As someone has put it, “The Lord is not a passive bystander or a disinterested partner but is committed to a process of disclosure by which God’s will is made known to us.
Second, we typically learn God’s will over time through a series of those “aha” experiences. Peter’s vision of the sheet with the unclean animals set before him initially baffled him.
Peter’s understanding of his Gentile mission grew through a series of events:
· He heard Cornelius testify to his own vision when the angel said that he should send for Peter to visit him and his household.
· Peter had his own moment of internal reflection when he was so puzzled by the vision when God directed him to “kill and eat” and that it was “okay” for him to eat these unclean foods.
· And he grew in his understanding through hearing the reports from others about what a God-fearing man Cornelius was.
Peter only turned to scripture for confirmation only after he learned through these multiple experiences over several days that God’s forgiveness is offered to all people without partiality.
So, this was Peter’s aha moment. “I truly understand that God shows no partiality – God plays no favorites.
Too often those believers who think themselves among God’s “chosen” are often inclined to think that that God has not chosen anyone else who disagrees with their beliefs or with their interpretation of scripture. How often do we see this happen today? We label our disagreeable opponents to disenfranchise them. They are “liberal” or “conservative” or “gay” or “transgender” or Jewish” or “Baptist” or “female” or “black” or divorced” – just to name a few.
Yet what has become crystal clear to Peter is that to do so is not the prerogative of pious Israel or anyone else, It is God alone who judges the living and the dead. As one writer notes, “One of the most surprising features of Acts is the diversity of people God calls to be included among God’s people – all of whom are symbolized by the (Gentile) Cornelius.”
Someone has said that American Christians need to have an Acts 10: 28 moment. Of course, they are referring to Peter’s experience in the passage we have looked at today where Peter had his aha moment and declared “… but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”
Has God shown us that we should never call anyone unholy or unclean? Yes! More than three times. But we still seem to struggle with this very simple concept.
As one writer has said, “I wish Christians today would take this verse to heart. Print it up on t-shirts. Slap that bumper sticker on you SUV. Post and share that meme on your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram page.”
Peter’s vision and what he learned from it is that God plays no favorites. That means no one is rejected. No one is excluded. Not gay people, not transgender people, not Muslims, not Atheists, not Democrats, not Republicans, not Black Lives Matter, not anyone, anywhere, at any time for any reason.
I’ve had my aha moments, too, on my journey toward the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons in the faith community. I’m grateful that back in the 80’s when my views on the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the church and support for families of LGBTQ families was just emerging in my thoughts that God’s Holy Spirit was working on me. I knew that in the small-town church I served I had a family that before I became their pastor, their son had come out as an adult and had left his wife and declared that he was gay. Well, I bought my first back on the subject of homosexuality --The Parents of the Homosexual Child published in 1980 -- so I could learn more before I talked with this family about their son and show my support and care for them.
Little did I know that forty years later, I would be offering classes for parents whose kids have come out. And now, I am resourcing others who want to offer classes or support for parents when their kids have come out.
When I was a district superintendent in the 1990s when Judy Craig was our bishop. At the General Conference in 1996, Judy was among fifteen bishops who broke with the Council of Bishops and made a public statement at that conference that the doors of the church should be open to LGBTQ+ persons. That statement created a lot of controversy among some congregations in our annual conference including some in the Athens District where I served. As I went out to speak to and listen to these congregations, I was placed in a position where I had to figure out what I believed about God’s love for all people and that being gay was not a lifestyle choice, not something that condemns someone to eternal damnation, but being LGBTQ+ is who people are in their best authentic personhood as children of God.
Then our daughter Lisa came out to us as lesbian twenty-two years ago. As a dad on this Father’s Day, I’m glad that God was already working on me before then to show me that God’s love extends to God’s LGBTQ+ children. I was already on my way when Lisa told us she was gay. I loved her then, and I love her and her partner Melissa today just like I love our daughter Laura and her husband Jason and our two grandchildren.
It was through my witness of the lives of faithful people who happen to be LGBTQ+ and through seeing in the scriptures the love that Jesus came to proclaim that God loves all of God’s children that I was prepared to love my daughter, to offer support for parents of LGBTQ+ children, and to become an ally seeking justice in the United Methodist Church.
Yes, I, too, have had my aha moments where God has showed me that God plays no favorites, and that God loves all. And I’ll probably have more of them in the future because I’m sure God isn’t finished with me yet.
Today we are still in a struggle for the soul of the United Methodist Church as we have been for the last fifty years. God is still calling us to be faithful as we welcome and accepts all of God’s children. And while many gains have been made in the larger culture for LGBTQ+ persons, many are still at risk especially LGBTQ+ children who are at a higher risk of suicide.
Transgender persons are especially being targeted in these days. That includes families of transgender children who are in need of support medically and with counseling that some politicians are trying to deny them. I just read on Friday about a resolution passed by the North Texas Annual Conference pledging to defy Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's order to have parents of transgender children investigated if they seek life-saving gender-affirming care for their youngsters.
The resolution put the state on notice that more than 600 North Texas clergy, along with nearly 130,000 United Methodists in 277 churches covering 22 counties have declared themselves safe sanctuaries for trans families," said the Rev. Dr. Geoffrey Moore, the resolution's author, during a sermon June 12 at St. Stephen United Methodist Church in Mesquite, Texas, a Dallas suburb. "This resolution tells the state that we will not criminalize life-saving medical care that medical authorities say is appropriate for trans children," Dr. Moore said.
I hope it doesn’t come to that in the state of Ohio, but with legislation about transgender children coming before the Ohio legislature, the congregations of the West OH Conference – we -- may be called upon to take up such a stance in support of transgender children and their families. We need to stand with those families and with all LGBTQ+ persons and in these days. We are called to live out the truth that God plays no favorites.
In a devotional I read this spring, the writer said that the ubiquitous “All are Welcome” sign has become disdained in many church circles. She writes that it is not that churches do not wish to welcome all people. The tension is between the desire and the execution. Churches often welcome all who can fit in to the often narrow group of whom the people in that church find acceptable.
The writer continues by asking “What if the new vogue in church signs were, “We See with Christ’s Eyes”?
· A church living up to this sign would hold its traditions and habits lightly. It would create new ways when the old ones cause harm or limit the church’s ability to share love and power.
· The people of the congregation would see themselves as a new generation of apostles sent out into the world to see Christ in others and returning every week for prayer, renewal, and to share stories of the new creation.
· In this beloved community, no one is considered from a human perspective but in the light of divine love.
· People are accepted for who they say they are.
· Good boundaries are established and kept.
· Honesty is valued, encouraged, and praised.
· No one grieves alone. Forgiveness abounds and reparations are respected as necessary.
Indeed, if we want to mean, “All are Welcome,” then we must demonstrate how we see all people through Christ’s eyes.
What would it mean for us and for this church and for the church at large to see with others with the eyes of Christ?
What would happen if we were to seek to live out the lesson that was revealed to Peter in our text today?
The encounter of Peter with Cornelius and God revealing to Peter that none are profane or unclean changed the course of the early church and its mission to all people.
God give us a vision and help us to learn that lesson anew in this day for the sake of all your children including your LGBTQ+ children and their families. Let us have our own aha moment as we realize that love is for all. Let us seek to see others with the eyes of Christ.
It’s God’s own truth: nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites. It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from – if you want God and are ready to do as (God) says, the door is open to you!
So let us seek to live in this day!