Who Do You Think You Are?

John 6:35, 41-51

Who-Do-You-Think-You-Are-MP35Jesus said to [the crowd,] “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 41Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Who Do You Think You Are?

Give yourself to us tonight, Lord

In bread and wine

In silence and peace

In a love that we feel

But cannot see.

You know who we are,

Help us to know you more.

Amen.

The summer of the year I turned six my Sunday morning routine changed dramatically.

In the summer where I turned six, I became the perpetual acolyte for the 8am service at our church.  My father being the pastor decided that the 8am timeslot for acolyting, which no one wanted to sign up for, was tailor made for me.  Afterall: he had to be there. So I would be there.

Getting dressed in the dark.  Climbing in the freezing cold car on those northern Ohio mornings during the winter. Billy Joel on cassette on our way to the church, only a few blocks.

But me attending that 8am service meant that I didn’t have to attend the late service with my mother and other brothers.  I was free to roam the church during that service, running through the halls if I wanted, as long as I didn’t get too close to the sanctuary.

One time I did, though, and a new usher grabbed me by the arm as I was racing past.  “Who do you think you are?!” he demanded of me.  “We don’t just let kids run around in here!”

“I,” I said shaking off his hand, standing as tall as my six year old self could muster and with as much pomposity as possible, “I, am the son of the pastor.”

I intended that line to be my mic drop. My diplomatic immunity.  My get out of jail free card.

Instead he just looked at me and said, “You sure are acting like a pastor’s kid, aren’t you?  Come on…” and he grabbed me and sat me down in the library until church was over.

When I finally was free from the library, my father and I had a long talk about how I was not special, and I was henceforth relegated to my father’s office, where I could do little harm and annoy ushers only from afar.

The appeal to status in authority is a common defense when we find ourselves in trouble.  In tonight’s scripture reading, though, it is Jesus’ family that causes him to be questioned in the first place.  “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they ask.  “How then can he go running around all of our houses of worship, all of our rules and regulations, claiming he’s anything spectacular.”

Jesus, the Galilean; the one born in Bethlehem, a name which literally means “house of bread,” is no bread of life in their eyes.

And what about your eyes?  What about you?

In our summer study this past month we looked at the lost and forgotten Gospel of Thomas, one not included in the scriptures (and, perhaps for good reason).  And one of the themes that we came back to over and over again that wove its way through that little collection of supposed Jesus sayings is how often Jesus talked about a Kingdom of God that had no need for the categories that we so often place one another in: gender, job, ethnicity, marital status.

It didn’t matter who you are, were, wanted to be, or happened to be: the Kingdom of God was for you. Accessible to you.

It’s not that these categories aren’t important; they are in many practical ways.  But in a spiritual sense…well…if you think you can get brownie points with God or make an appeal for authority based on what family you’re from, how many religious laws you follow, what you do for a living, or what sex you are, you’re mistaken.

God, it seems, doesn’t have any need for those kind of political and social games we like to play.

As St. Paul says, “In Christ there is no slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female.”  And perhaps we could add, “Democrat nor Republican, employed or unemployed or underemployed, popular or outcast, gay, straight, bi, or otherwise, regular church-goer or spiritual-but-not-religious, unhappily divorced, happily married, happily divorced, unhappily married, or somewhere in-between depending on the day.”

This table is for people who don’t have it figured it out.  It’s for people who can’t seem to get it together.  It’s for people who are doing relatively well, and for people who are just breathing today…and that’s an improvement over yesterday.

It’s for you, Beloved.

In Christ we are all just two things: imperfect and perfectly loved.

As Lillian Daniels, that cranky Christian pastor once said, “At every table I know there is at least one sinner there, because I take a seat.”  That’s an honest appeal right there.

But not to authority. Rather, it is an appeal to reality.  Sinner and saint. No more; no less.

In Christ we can come open and vulnerable to the table, the bread of life, not because we have it all figured out, because we come from the right family, have the right job, love the right people, or even believe the right things.

We come with open hands precisely because we don’t have it all figured out, and the bread of life offered here will somehow provide of us some Divine nourishment that reminds us that it’s ok.

We’re not special in so many ways.  But we are God’s, and that’s what matters.

So do not complain amongst yourselves about any of what I was talking about before. Come as you are, sinner and saint, to this table where the bread of life waits.  Come with hands and hearts open to the love here, a small bit of love that, somehow, fills us again and again, week after week, with all of the grace that we don’t find in any of those other categories.

Because who do you think you are, after all?

I’ll tell you: you are God’s Beloved.

 

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The Bread of Life is for Dead Folks

bread-of-life-1I was talking one time with someone who had stopped taking communion at their church.  A self-imposed excommunication.

“Why?” I asked them.

“Because I don’t have it figured out.  I’m not right with God.  It just doesn’t feel right…” they responded in tears.

I get where they’re coming from, of course.  The whisper campaign that you should refrain from taking the Sacrament if you’re not “right with God” has been going around church circles since, like, forever.

But it’s a whisper campaign that I like to counteract.  Both from a practical standpoint, and a theological standpoint, I think this attitude toward the Sacrament is not only unhelpful, but can actually be harmful.

I’ve been to church services where the Eucharist feels like a funeral.  In long procession the people parade forth without even so much as a smile, as if we all had just witnessed Christ sacrificed on the altar, and we’re so sad for what we’ve seen…what we’ve done…that we’ll choke on it all through this shared act of bread and wine consumption.

I’m not saying that Eucharist isn’t serious.  It certainly is serious, and has a bit of gravitas with it.

It is a time for confession and reconciliation; this is true.

But it is, above all, a time for celebration.  The word “Eucharist” literally means “Thanksgiving.”  Our sacrifice is not Christ up there on the altar, but rather praise and gratitude, because God offers us such wonderful grace.

In other words: smile. In that act of grace your day, your week, your very life is about to get a bit better!

I’m writing about all of this because this week’s Gospel lesson is all about Jesus calling himself “the bread of life.”

Go ahead and read it.  I’ll wait.  Just click here.

Good?  Onward…

So, Jesus calls himself “the bread of life,” which really ticks a lot of people off.  Who gives him the authority to be life for everyone?  It’s not like he fell down from heaven and is God’s gift to the world or anything…

Actually, that’s exactly what he claims to be.  God gives him such authority.

And he notes that people approach him because God compels them to approach.  The Spirit moves them, invites them, into relationship with him.

And it is not because they have figured everything out (did the disciples ever figure anything out?).

And it is not because they felt they were worthy (who is worthy?).

See, we don’t approach communion, we don’t approach Christ, because we are complete and ready and have a handle on life.

We approach communion, we receive Christ, because we are dead, folks.

Dead from a week of screwing things up.

Dead from a week of feeling like everyone is stepping on you.

Dead from a week of arguing with our spouse.

Dead from a week of feeling alone to the point of distraction.

Dead from a week of a dead-end job, from kids who we love but yelled at too much, from work we love but know isn’t the best for the world, from work we hate but know we’re making a difference, from arguments and sins of all kinds, from caring too much and caring to little…

Dead from life-overload.  Dead from too much death.

Look: on Sunday mornings Lutheran’s have an altar call.  But unlike our brothers and sisters in other camps, we don’t ask you to accept Jesus into your hearts.  Instead we tell you that Jesus accepts you.

Accepts you just as you are: dead, for all sorts of reasons.

And instead of accepting Christ into your hearts, you are assured that Christ has accepted you into God’s enfolding love, God’s heart, and you are then invited to have a meal at Christ’s invitation that, our theology tells us, starts to fill in the gaps that you just can’t seem to fill otherwise.

That, friends, is grace.  Communion is grace.

And grace is serious business.  But it is happy business, too.  So don’t be surprised if the music isn’t somber, but joyful.

Practically, we’re never right enough with God, right?  We just aren’t.

Theologically, why would you deny yourself grace that is freely offered?  That’s like not getting in a lifeboat when there’s space for you.

So come to the table of grace with a smile, friend.

Because at communion dead things come alive again…because the bread of life is for dead folks.

Thank God.

There’s Something About Mary

0f45ffc383d81a5092c5c59535d547d6--religious-icons-religious-artIf you walk into my office you’ll notice two things right off the bat.

First, it looks like a child has been in there.  And they have.  There are toys and tchotchkes all over the shelves.  I’m often looking for something to occupy little hands while I try to work.

The second thing you’ll probably notice is my (growing) wall of icons.  I know, I know, there’s a nasty little rumor being spread around Christianity (for at least the last 500 years) that suggests that Lutherans aren’t supposed to like icons.  That they are idols.  We don’t pray to saints after all, so why would we keep these pictures of them with little halos around?

Sometimes it feels like Protestants have an allergic reaction to icons.  I even hear some people say, “That’s too Catholic…”

If we’ve had a bad experience in churches that displayed icons, I can certainly see the hesitation to have them around.  In a similar way, I’ve had less than stellar experiences in churches with stages and bands, and have a generally negative reaction when I walk into a church and don’t see the things I associate with worship: a cross, an altar, a pulpit, paraments, etc.

But let me make the case for icons for a second, especially icons of Mary, because I think there’s some value to be found here for Lutherans.

We forget that Martin Luther was Catholic.  He may have been excommunicated, but he was born and raised a Catholic, and he died trying to be a good Catholic (despite Rome’s best efforts).

And while he was willing to dispense of much of Catholic dogma and doctrine (justifiably, in my opinion), he kept Mary close to his heart. As he once wrote, she was “the Apostle to the Apostles.”  He didn’t pray to Mary, as he was convinced that any of the faithful could approach Christ without an intermediary.  But he lifted up her life as exemplary.  He saw her as living a life that was intent on following God’s call, especially when doing so became uncomfortable, unpopular, and even dangerous.

My own interest in the figure of Mary has less to do with her saying yes to God, and more to the way she has said yes to other peoples and cultures over the ages.  When her likeness appeared in Guadalupe to Juan Diego as a symbol that God stands with the indigenous marginalized in Mexico, hope was given to a people who desperately desired a sign that God was with them.  I’m not saying whether this vision was reality or imagination, I’m just saying that whatever happened there has had a profound, and positive, impact on generations of Christians, and it seems like there was something about the historical person of Mary that made her the best conduit of that grace.

Mary’s song, The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), has become the song of liberation for oppressed people all over the world.  When it is sung by people on the margins, her claim that “God has lifted up the lowly” becomes true in that very moment as the voices of those the world considers “lowly” are lifted up loudly in song. There’s something about a poor peasant girl being chosen by God to carry God into the world that just resonates with people on the margins.  It encourages us to see God’s vessel as being anyone, anywhere.  This truly lifts up the eyes of the lowly, to see new possibility, and casts down the eyes of the lofty, to look for God in those they would otherwise miss.

And she is a model of both staunch faith and crippling doubt.  Throughout the scriptures she both has confidence in Jesus’ abilities (John 2:1-11) and questions if Jesus’ ministry is doing any good at all (Mark 3:20-35).  Honest Christians vacillate between these two poles, sometimes all within twenty-four hours.  There’s something about having that example of faith that can get you through the dark night of the soul…

Even in her struggle to make sense of it all, she continued to follow the Christ to the cross and then to the empty tomb.  Can we, even as our faith wavers?  Mary’s example says we can, and that there is blessing on the other side of the tomb.

This is one of the reasons I’m a big advocate for marking Mary’s feast day in the Lutheran church calendar (August 15th).  She’s a great example for the Christian life: of saying yes to God’s call, of speaking across the barriers that divide us, of giving witness to how God is continually lifting up the lowly over and against the powerful, and of showing how faith and doubt can hold hands in this world.

Christmas in August, as we’ve come to call it here, is a really neat day.  Not just because I love Christmas, but also because I love the Divine yes that both Christmas, and Mary’s witness, shows to our world.

Icons, at their best, remind us of the faithful example of the dead.

So bake your Christmas cookies (and share your recipes!), and bring in those school material gifts for the children of Raleigh this Sunday.  There’s no need for St. Nick, we have another saint (and more importantly, Jesus) to be our guide.

Some may argue that she’s just like all the other saints, but I still think there’s something about Mary.

Sky Writing

<To listen to the sermon, click here.  Sermons are best heard. Kind of like rock concerts. Except not as exciting. Well…depends on the band, I guess…>

Mark 15:33-39

4200d0c241af228ced92a00f2ab885f2--bucket-list-sky33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[a]

35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died,[b] he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Sky Writing

God of all things,

You make us alive with the very

Breath of your being.

All of creation testifies to your

Life-giving love.

Fill us again today, holy one:

With wonder

With graceful awe

With loving breath

With new life.

Amen.

Ok, favorite memories that have to do with the sky.  Anyone?  Picturesque moments?  Anything?

We have a book called I Am Peace that I read to the boys sometimes. And it has a moment in there where the main character is lying in the grass, looking up at the sky, and he’s finding shapes in the clouds.  I think they secretly hate this book, btw, but their hippie dad loves it…

And I asked the boys, “What kind of shapes can clouds be in?”  And Finn pipes up right away, sitting up straight and goes, “Oh, all kinds of shapes!  Guitars. Turtles. Houses. Dogs…”

And that went on forever.  Apparently when he says “all kinds of things” he means “all of the things” and intends to name all of the things…probably to stop me from reading this book that they don’t really like (but it’s great!).

On the 8 hour ride home from St. Augustine yesterday Finn yelled, “Dad! That cloud looks like a tornado!” which is not something you want to hear when driving through the middle of nowhere Georgia.  But, sure enough, the whispy cloud did look like a mini-tornado in the sky.  All kinds of things.

We always look to the sky for answers. We’ve always thought our future was written in the stars. From Apollo pulling the sun up every day with his chariot to finding the man on the moon, whether it was for signs, omens, portents, horoscopes, humans have had a love affair with the sky.

And not just the sky, but the gifts of the sky.  Every day you breathe over 3900 gallons of air.  Your luxurious hair blows in the wind. You jet setters walk on air weekly. Flight is amazing.

The sky plays a classic role in much of scripture, too.  In Genesis God separates the waters above from the waters below. Moses follows the pillar of cloud or fire out of Egypt, to Elijah calling down the fire of heaven on the priests of Baal, to that star of wonder, star of night/star with royal beauty bright…and Jesus notes that the creatures of the air, the sparrows, are known and noted by God, so you’re surely known, by God…

The sky, and all therein, holds wonders.

In the Hebrew Scriptures God’s spirit is assigned the attributes of the sky.  Ruach, or “God’s Breath” blows through people, in people, carrying messages, carrying life.

And in this passage of scripture, perhaps an odd one to read on a Sunday where we’re focusing on how the sky plays a part in telling humanity about the ways of God, the sky goes dark at Jesus’ crucifixion, bringing to mind for me that old spiritual, Were you there when the sun refused to shine?  Were you there when the sun refused to shine?  Oh, oh, oh, oh. Sometimes it causes me to tremble. Tremble. Tremble.  Were you there when the sun refused to shine?

In Mark’s Gospel everything mourns at Jesus’ death. Even the sky.  And some of the people standing around are expecting Elijah to fly down from the sky and save Jesus.  But that doesn’t happen.  Salvation won’t come falling down from the sky like that.  The sky mourns as one of the disciples that day.  Jesus won’t be saved.  He’ll do the saving.

And sometimes life surely feels that way, right? Like everything, even creation, is crying.  We all know what it feels like when the sky is falling.

Or when we’re so anxious with fear or pain or heartache we can barely catch our breath.

Or when something strikes us so to the core that the only air that slips from our lips is the sigh, “My God…” which is the most honest prayer I know.

I’m not here to tell you that we need to take better care of our atmosphere.  If you’ve ever flown into Mexico City or Los Angeles you don’t need convincing.  That sage and saintly Scottish-American John Muir, the father of our national parks, wrote in his diary one morning, “Another glorious day, the air as delicious to the lungs as nectar to the tongue.”  He wasn’t standing in LA…while Los Angeles County’s air quality has improved, health officials note that air pollution kills 1,300 people a year there, making it the deadliest air in the country.

Leave it to us to screw everything up, not only what we can see, but also even the things we can’t: air, oxygen, the very breath of life.  Somehow we find a way…

We care for the sky not because it tells us about the future, but because God has intended it as part of our shared future, friends.  If we think we can survive without clean air, well, don’t hold your breath…

Has anyone seen skywriting?  It costs a fortune, I looked up some prices, but you hire that skilled pilot to spray paraffin oil into a smoky exhaust in the sky.  A single letter can be over a mile in length in the sky.

Well, I like the idea of God sky writing to us.  I don’t put much stock into horoscopes or anything like that, so I was thinking of the different kinds of skies that I’ve observed and how they can be reminders to me about the nature of God (not to mention a reminder of how important the atmosphere is to my life).  Because I want us friends to walk away from today able to look up at the sky and be reminded somehow of God and God’s promises.

So I imagined a clear sky at night, where the stars are so numerous they look like the seeds of a strawberry.  And how in that moment I usually feel so small in this galaxy.  Small, but still a part of it all.  That clear night sky speaks to me about God’s love.  So small, yet part of it all: love.

And then I imagined that warm spring day where the wind and sun fall gently on your skin in equal measure.  The possibilities are endless because the weather is right for just about anything.  That warm spring day speaks to me about God’s resurrection power.  That God can make anything life-giving again.

And then I imagined that still moment after a storm has passed.  Even a terrible storm.  When everything is quiet, and you start to hear life again from birds.  People rustling about, coming out of their shelters.  That stillness, that calm after the storm speaks to me of God’s grace.  Grace, that stillness that invades the house after the blow-up.  That falls upon everything after the worst is over and the mending is about to begin.

But…but…

What about when the sky is falling?  What about when the air feels thin?  What about when the only prayer that you can spit out into the air is a sob or a curse? What about when the sun refuses to shine in your life?  What then?

Then, beloved, we look up, as if we are standing at the foot of the cross.  And against that dark backdrop of a sky we see clearly the lengths that God will go for us to show love, and grace, and resurrection power.

When the sky is falling in your life, look up. Not for God to fly down from somewhere to make it all better.  Not for Elijah or an angel or anything like that.  Beloved, look up to the cross, and see the day when the sky fell upon the Christ, and remember that this was not the end.  That in God there is always love. Always resurrection. Always grace that follows every storm.

Because God is determined to redeem us, friends.  Despite our best efforts to mess everything up, God won’t let it happen in the end.

There’s a musician, Kyler England, who has this lovely, haunting song called “Holding Up the Sky.”  It reminds me of those moments in my life when I was sure the sky was falling, and yet there I was still alive. Breathing.

She sings:

every time i think i can’t go on
every time i think my will is gone
every time i think i’m broken, there you are

when i’m alone out in the wilderness of my heart
i know that it’s ok to come apart
cause when it all comes falling
and i start to cry
there you are holding up the sky
when it all comes falling
and i don’t know why
there you are holding up the sky

And there, on the cross, with arms outstretched, we find God with skin on, holding up the sky for a humanity that just can’t seem to get it right. Determined to stand with us when all is calm, all is bright, and…when the sky is falling? God’s determined to outstretch the holy arms and hold it up so that we have nothing to fear.

What grace.

What love.

What resurrection is written in that sky.

Surely anyone who would do that must be  the Son of God.

 

 

The Blues

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Red sky at night, sailor’s delight;

Red sky at morning, sailor take warning.

I write this to you from the sunny shores of north Florida, where my family holds a reunion, and has so for over 30 years.  Rhonda, the boys, and I have never been close enough to attend, but this year we’re able.

We drove down on Monday morning, and will be back on Saturday, so we’ll be able to worship with you all on Sunday.

I’ve enjoyed these days under the clear Florida sky.  I have a love affair with the ocean that has been going on since my childhood.

It reminds me of one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets, Nayyirah Waheed. She penned, “how does the sea remember me. every time.”

It is a mystery.  The sea seems to remember me. Or I it. Or both.

I come by my love for the beach and Jimmy Buffett music honestly: my whole family on my father’s side are shore people.

You could say that I have the blues these days.

Not the sad blues, but the content blues.  Blue like the Florida ocean. Blue like the sky.

The blue sky and the blue ocean share common habits.  Both reflect that short wavelength color (blue) most of the time (as long as the water is clear…the algae disperses the light in such a way that greens and reds take over, which give our Carolina waters a murky look, sometimes).  Science is amazing.

These blues down here in this clearer water are sustained, though, and the horizon is only distinguished because the blue turns from royal to Tar Heel blue in a nice clean line over the expanse of the end of the world.

The sky has historically been a place to look for meaning and signs by the human race.  Last night Rhonda and I stood out on the beach and stared up at the constellations.  We were able to see many of them here because the light pollution is relatively low.

We found Venus shining brightly and, since there was no moon, we were able to plainly see the constellation Scorpius and the part of Ursa Major we call Big Dipper. Lyra and Aquila were also clear (or so we armchair astronomers think).  The skies were beautiful.

And in the evening every day (so far) the red sky has met us with welcome arms (see the truism at the top of the page for reference).  My grandfather used to say that this was a good sign for sailors: the fishing would be good; the seas would be calm.

Sailors can tell you as much about the sky as they can about the sea.  The ones worth their salt, at least.  The sea and the sky live in balance with one another, each interpreting the other. Perhaps that’s why they kiss out there on the horizon.  They live in an entangled and necessary relationship.

This Sunday we’ll see how the sky continues to speak God’s word in this world.  That sentence might seem a little fuzzy (dare I say cloudy?) to you right now, but I promise it will make more sense soon.

While I do not believe that the sky predicts the future, I do think that all creation speaks of God, the sky included.  And I do believe it is living.  It may not be a “being,” but it is alive. And our obligation to care for our sky, and to see it as a living part of our common life, is part of God’s call in the creation story.

Our atmosphere is specifically tuned for life, which is remarkable in and of itself.

And I am in awe of it, especially this week.

So, I encourage you to stare at the stars some in the coming days.  Daydream.  Find the shapes in the clouds. Take comfort in the red sky at night, and the promise of the rainbow.  And if you’re by the shore, take a moment to watch them blend together and stand in silence at the beauty and wonder of what is.

In other words: I encourage you to get the blues.

See you in church.

There’s a Party at the End of the World

John 1:1-14

749px-Nasa_blue_marbleIn the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

There’s a Party at the End of the World

In his encyclical Laudato Si (which literally means “Praise be to you”) Pope Francis included two prayers for Christians to use when it comes to creation.  It is no small thing that the head of the Holy Roman Catholic Church wrote an encyclical about creation.  Creation defenders have been screaming from the margins of the church for over a century, but not really from the center.  Let’s be honest: the nations at the forefront of planetary degradation have predominently been ones that are considered “Christian nations.”  That’s an inconvenient truth.

So to have the Holy Father offer prayers for creation, well, even though the Romans don’t think we’re Catholic, Martin Luther considered Lutherans to be the best Catholics, so we’re going to start out with one of these prayers that I’ve shortened because, you can say a lot about Pope Francis, but you can’t say that his prayers a succinct. OK?  And I’ll post the full prayer on social media later for those who may want a copy.  Let’s join creation in prayer:

God, we praise you with all your creatures.
They came forth from your all-powerful hand;
they are yours, filled with your presence and your tender love.

teach us to contemplate you
in the beauty of the universe,
for all things speak of you.

God of love, show us our place in this world
as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak, and care for this world in which we live.

The poor and the earth are crying out.
O Lord, seize us with your power and light, help us to protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
of justice, peace, love and beauty.
Praise be to you!
Amen.

Tell me, Beloved, when was the last time you stood in awe of creation?  Like, when was the last time you looked at a piece of the world and were so blown away you could barely breathe?

I’ve had some tell me that the first shots from Apollo 17 of the Earth, a picture affectionately known as “The Blue Marble” was a moment of awe for them.  Or perhaps a mountain overlook.  Zion Canyon last year provided Rhonda and me some amazing views that I didn’t know were possible.  The earth is painted in colors that I never knew existed outside of a Crayola box.

Or maybe it has been these pictures out of Hawaii.  This lava flow is devastatingly beautiful, and I mean both terms there.

Awe is the basis for all religions.  It is not their holy texts.  It is not their individual holy peoples or messiahs.  Awe is what brings you to the awareness that things, all things, this thing that we call life, is much bigger than you, or me, or even all of us homo sapiens, together.

The writer of the Gospel of John decided that humanity needed a reminder of awe, and so he re-wrote the creation story here that serves as our Gospel for this morning.  He basically took Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, the Jewish creation stories where God spoke life into being and proclaimed for everyone that the word that God spoke to get everything to become alive was Jesus.  The word Jesus, in John’s belief system, is synonymous with the word “Life.”  “Not one thing came into existence without that word,” John says.  For John the story of Jesus doesn’t start out when he was a baby, but before there were any babies at all.

The Psalmist has a similar take as she sings in our Psalm for today, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.”  I kind of like that image, because I can imagine God spitting out the stars like you might spit out watermelon seeds at a family picnic.

The word of God is “life,” Beloved. And for the Psalmist, and for the Gospel writer, that life created everything you see.

Which means that all of this is important.  Sacred, even.  God-breathed.

Theologians have long considered creation to be as God breathed as some scripture, in fact.  One of my favorite mystics Meister Eckhart (which, by the way, is a name that needs to be reclaimed: Meister. I’d love to baptize a Meister…), but Meister Eckhart said that, “Anyone who truly knows God’s creatures can be excused from listening to sermons for every creature is full of God and is a book, themselves.

Please sit back down…no one is going anywhere.

And when Eckhart was just a wee child, St. Thomas Aquinas, perhaps the quintessential philosopher-theologian of the ancient church noted that, “Sacred writings are bound in two volumes: that of creation and that of Holy Scripture.

And then our own Blessed Martin noted that, “God writes the Gospel, not in the Bible alone, 
but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.

I’m not trying to convince you of it, though.  Even if you think recycling is just a fad, you can’t deny that the planet earth, as a living thing, teaches you about death and resurrection. You know it is true.

The Gospel is about how through God death never has the final say.  Resurrection, life, will continue.

St. Joni of the Mitchells (and Bob Dylan, and Amy Grant, and Counting Crows) once sang, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”  And those of us who love green spaces more than concrete are certainly sad about that (and rightly so).  But Mitchell forgot a special bridge in that song, a forgotten verse, one that she didn’t write, but that I could write for her, that spoke of how that parking lot eventually cracked and grew weeds.  How roots caused it to buckle and break.

You can pave paradise and put up a parking lot, but you cannot pave over life.  It can’t be stopped.  The Gospel writer says Life was the first word that God spoke.  Our ears heard it as “Jesus,” but in its original language it is literally “God is a life-preserver.”  Literally, the name “Jesus” is the Anglicanized Greek Yeosus, which is the Greek form of Hebrew’s Joshua, which literally means “God Saves.”

God delivers. Saves. God is a life-Preserves. God Creates a way out of no way, like a small blade of crab grass breaking through dense asphalt, something that should absolutely be impossible and, yet, it happens.

Creation, if we’ll pay attention, can teach us about the ways of God, Beloved.

And, in that same spirit, I think that Christians should become adept at doing what I’m naming “throwing parties at the end of the world.”  Jimmy Buffett has a song by that title, but that’s not what I’m thinking of, though it could certainly be part of the party play-list.

Where is the end of the world, you might ask?  Well, it might be Antarctica for all of you literalists out there (and, believe me, if there is a part of creation that is vulnerable right now, it is our polar ice-caps), but hear me just a bit and perhaps I can expand that definition for you.

We need to re-embrace the title of Earthlings.  It’s in Sci-Fi movies, and usually is pejorative, but I think we should embrace it.  Because in each of us, in each cell, we have the building blocks of life mixed with star dust, and so, in a very real sense, our bodies are the end of a kind of world.  And the bodies of every living creature, in fact.  And with over three hundred species a week becoming extinct, despite not having much agency in the matter, we need to become more adept at celebrating the life of our bodies.

Each one of us is a little Earth, or at least a little bit of Earth, and we are all the end of an ecosystem of some kind, as is each living thing.  And we need to become better at throwing little parties around that.  Giving thanks for that.  And what do you do at parties?  You give gifts.  Each living thing is a gift.  Has a gift.  Is worthy of getting the gift of continued life.

And this is especially important because our bodies are easily destroyed.  By addiction; eating disorders.  And I say both of those as someone who knows, personally, a bit about both.  And they are easily destroyed by taking a blade and cutting our legs, arms, and wrists, in an attempt to feel something, anything, in this ecosystem that can be numb sometimes.  Bullying destroys our bodies. Physical bullying and psychological bullying.

Sex-shaming, sex-glorifying, and purity culture are destroying our bodies.

Our ecosystems that we call our bodies are being ravaged by all of these things, and the church has for too long either done nothing about it except be silent, or in worst cases, has been a platform for it to happen, often to the littlest ecosystems around us.

We must become better at talking about these things openly, so that having flesh can be something to be celebrated instead of shameful about.  The church must be a place that talks about bodies as good, God-given, God-blessed things.

But let’s go deeper here, people.  Let’s stay on the human body, but I want you to think of the places where the human body collects the most dirt: the hands, the head, the feet.  We must become specialists in throwing parties at these places, and by that I mean serving, the places where the dust collects the most.

Jesus washes the disciples feet not because cleanliness is next to Godliness, but because Godliness means going where the dirt is.

It’s why God made the earth anyway: to play in the dirt. It’s why God made us from the dirt.  It’s why God went not to the white-washed halls of power but to the unclean leper, the unclean, hemorrhaging woman, the unclean spirit, and the unclean you and me in all the various ways we’re marked with dirt, not the least of which, Beloved, is that little mark of dirt that we place on our foreheads in the shape of the cross on Ash Wednesday. Which means that you can give up both pretending you’re not grimey and feeling totally ashamed of it.  We’re both sinner, and saint after all; earthlings and the baptized.  Go and remind some people of that, won’t you?

So get your nails dirty, Beloved, in service to the world and to others.  Throw a party at the end of the world that looks like hands, heads, and feet, because that is the perspective that God takes in the world.  People always imagine God looking down on the world.  Don’t believe that mess; that’s a lie.

In Jesus we see God looking up: up from the place of self-sacrificing love.  Up from the depths of human despair where the grime and muck of all that stuff that you hide under the nails of your soul lives.  Up from the tombs of this world.

God looks up, not down.  Which means you and I have to get down in the earth to get the Godly perspective.  You feel me?

The earth can remind us daily to go where the dirt is.

But let’s go just a bit deeper here.  There is a claim that Martin Luther once said that, if he knew the world would end tomorrow, he’d go and plant a tree.  We don’t know if he really said this, but I love to imagine he did, and I can see him saying it.  Because that kind of hopefulness, that kind of faith in the idea that God speaks a word of life even in the face of certain death, is the kind of party I want to attend.

Because that’s what we claim as Christians, is not?  That God’s word of Life that we call Jesus continues on, even after everything else doesn’t?  That it was before there was anything, and will last after all that we know has passed away?  That even after everything goes, life will continue because that seems to be the only word that God knows how to speak into the shadows?

The shadows of those dirty, grimy places of your life that you think are irredeemable?

The shadows of those dirty, grimy places of this city where we are called to serve people that the rest of the world thinks are useless creatures, but that we Christians claim are books that tell us about God?

The shadows of that final resting place we’ll all have, that tomb, where even after we’ve been buried God promises that, like a seed, life will somehow, someway, some form or fashion, go on?

See, our theology says there is a party at the end of the world.  But what it doesn’t say is that we have to wait until then to throw it.  We can start now.

What the Earth Can Teach Us

motions-of-the-earthThis Sunday starts our Seasons of Creation sermon series for the year.

This resource was birthed by our friends in the Lutheran Church of Australia (and one of my favorite theologian-poets, Norman Habel!).  They created it to fall around the days celebrating St. Francis of Assisi, but since those Sundays usually entail the beginning of so much in our hemisphere: School/Sunday School, Autumn, Labor Day, the advent of the Pumpkin Spice Latte (™), we’ve decided to put our Seasons of Creation series in July, in the heat of summer and in the time for spiritual growth that the church calls “the green season.”

The purpose of the Seasons of Creation cycle is to draw awareness toward the first and most available text of the Gospel, telling of God’s resurrection power through the Christ, which is creation itself.  Luther once wrote that, “The power of God is present at all places, even in the tiniest tree leaf…God is wholly present, in all creation, in every corner, behind and before you.” (Luther’s Works 37:57)  I couldn’t agree more.

I can’t tell you how many things the earth teaches me every day.  I don’t mean to be romantic about it, but it is true.

As a kid who danced in the trees as a camp counselor and as a green-spirited soul, nature has taught me, no, teaches me, yearly, about death and resurrection.  About patience and the need (literally, the need) to get into the dirt of things in this life.

Our own little patch of creation outside the church has been a mini school.  The squash sprang up early with tons of fruit, and then caught a blight. We’ve had to rip a few of them out. Life is like that sometimes. Everything is going great, better than expected, and then something infects it all and it can’t continue on in the same way anymore.

The lavender has kept the animals away.  Sometimes staying near the right things in life will keep you safe.

The peppers have grown tall, much taller than usual banana pepper and jalapeno plants.  They’ve had to in order to get the sunlight that the towering tomatoes hog. Sometimes you have to keep reaching, even past what you think you can, to get what is necessary to live.

The earth can teach us humility. You never know what year the hurricane will come, when the drought will strike, and which plants will succeed despite your laziness, and which ones will fail despite your diligence. Life is unpredictable.

The earth can teach us wisdom. We can map the world just by looking at the stars, and by mapping the stars we realize just how vast our galaxy actually is.  Sometimes the smallest things can teach you the most about the big picture.

These may sound like trite mantras until you realize that they are some of the keys to figuring out life.

And think on it, in the Jesus story it is the earth that gives us the resurrected one, like “the green blade rises from the buried grain,” as the hymn goes. Jesus did not fall from the sky, and did not appear out of nowhere.  He grew from the earth, buried there, like a seed about to sprout.  It is no accident that the resurrection is celebrated in spring in the Western church: it coincides with our hemispheric understanding of how life and death dance.

(Fun fact: there is some talk about flipping the church year for those in the Southern Hemisphere…which makes total sense to me…so that it, too, fits with the seasons in that part of the globe.)

Along with the different themes for each Sunday in this series, we’ll also have some interactive pieces in church, some book/movie recommendations that go along with the themes, and some special music.  Whether your thumbs are green or you can only grow things on accident, I think you’ll find this series to be thoughtful and life-giving.

Over the next four weeks we’ll look at:

July 8th-The Planet Earth (and we’ll have a service out at Sertoma Arts Center to bless bikes, trikes, and all wheeled things to celebrate our trail-blazed world. We’ll mark on big maps our favorite places around the world, and at the invitation of God ponder how awe and wonder are the beginning of faith.)

July 15th-Sky (and we’ll wave flags and launch balloons in the sanctuary as we give thanks to God for our atmosphere and all the right conditions for life.  True story: I thought about having children dress up as astronauts to process in this day, but the staff told me that would be “jumping the shark”…we still might do it…)

July 22nd-Mountain Sunday (and we’ll construct a mini-mountain with our children and and investigate how God in the scriptures often shows up on mountains and Jesus often teaches from mountains, setting them apart as special places of mystery and wonder.)

July 29th-Humanity/Education Sunday (and we’ll wear our alma maters from high school or college, celebrating the life of the mind and the gift that education is for the whole human race.)

But, Beloved, tell me: what does creation teach you?

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes by naturalist David Polis:

Must we always teach our children with books?  Let them look at the stars and the mountains above. Let them look at the waters and the trees and flowers on Earth. Then they will begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.

See you in church.

Compassion and Justice Hold Hands

<Listen along here if you want to laugh with the bald jokes in real time…>

1 Corinthians 12:12-26

9e0efad832d6c5154d9cd05d9b725951For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.  And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?  If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many members, yet one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this.  But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Compassion and Justice Hold Hands

Holy God, There is a long list of threats around us:

terror, cancer, killing, families torn apart,

friendships torn apart.

We don’t know who and what to trust.

loneliness,

shame,

death –

the list goes on and we know it well.

And in the midst of threat of every kind,

you appear among us in your full power,

in your deep fidelity,in your amazing compassion.

You speak among us the one word that could matter:

“Do not fear.”

And we, in our several fearfulnesses, are jarred by your utterance.

On a good day, we know that your sovereign word is true.

So give us good days by your rule,

free enough to rejoice,

open enough to change,’

trusting enough to move out of new obedience,

grace enough to be forgiven and then to forgive.

We live by your word. Speak it to us through the night,

that we may have many good days through your gift. (adapted of Salvation Oracles by Walter Brueggemann in “Prayers for a Privileged People“)

That prayer is printed in its original text in your bulletin or at the back of the church.  It’s by the brave and robust Walter Brueggemann, a pastor to pastors for many of us.

I use it today because, in some ways, I’m out of words, so I need some other authors to do the talking. I’m going to be borrowing a bunch of words today.

Like, for instance, this little phrase that I stumbled upon by the bald and beautiful New Mexican monastic Richard Rohr: “Sin is when you treat people like objects.”

Think of all the ways this has happened recently. On the news.  In your life.

We will always find reasons to be suspicious of others.  We will always come up with reasons to disinvite people from the party. We will always come up with reasons to tell people, “I have no need of you…” like the Apostle says above.

We will always come up with excuses to treat some better and some worse.  Nero, the emperor during St. Paul’s day when he was writing this letter to the church at Corinth, had reasons for killing Christians.  They were dangerous, he said.  They disrupted the peace of the Roman Empire, he said.  They were thieves and caused problems and weren’t like other Romans, he said.

He had reasons.  We always have reasons.

But, St. Paul reminds that church in Corinth that they are to live differently than the way Nero is encouraging them to live.  Because the ear belongs to the body, even though it doesn’t look like any other part.  You cannot cut it off, no matter your reason.  And the same goes for the eye, the nose, the foot, the head.

Rhonda stubbed her pinky toe three weeks ago.  Think that has no purpose?!  Try walking without it.

Rowan Williams’, in this chapter on Faith and Society, says it like this, “The Christian gospel declares that there is nothing more Godlike and precious than a single human person.”

The church, when it’s at its best, points out the ways that the world commits the cardinal sin of treating people like objects, and calls the world to do and be better in response to that hard, honest truth.

The church, when it’s at its best, is a burr in the saddle of the world.  It is an apocalyptic pocket of people, pulling back the veil on the ways we use one another.  It demands the world work not with lies like “everyone is welcome”, but with honesty, like the honest truth that we too often don’t want to welcome people or care for one another in the way God asks.

It is only in working with honest truth that we can start “shifting what the world takes for granted,” as Rowan Williams says.

The right reverend of Riverside Church in New York City reminded me of this type of honesty on Monday as I was reading some of his material.  He wrote, “Honesty does not come painlessly: ‘The truth will make you free’ (as St. Paul says), but first it makes you miserable! That God is against the status quo is one of the hardest things to believe if you are a Christian who happens to profit by the status quo.”

And then he went on, “In fact, most of us don’t really believe it in our heart of hearts. We comfort ourselves with the thought that because our intentions are good (nobody gets up in the morning and says, ‘Whom can I oppress today?’), we do not have to examine the consequences of our actions.

As a matter of fact, many of us are even eager to respond to injustice, as long as we can do so without having to confront the causes of it…”

The church reminds a world where the status quo is to treat people like objects, that if we are to have justice in any situation, we must confront the causes of injustice, which requires that we have a deep kind of love for other people, a suffering kind of love, a love that enters into their situation, and that is what we call compassion.  Compassion and justice must hold hands.

Compassion alone eventually turns into pity, which does no good. And justice alone just becomes ruthless and has no heart.  They must hold hands.

We cannot break free from the status quo unless we first have a change of heart.  Once that happens, justice follows.  And how do we have a change of heart?

We fall in love with something or someone.

People ask me all the time how to change people’s minds about this issue or that.  Your arguments won’t do it, by the way, especially in a post-fact/post-truth world that we’re living in.  Reasons are often heartless, and often by design.

Instead, you change people by getting them to fall in love. And if we can’t fall in love with babies…well…

You know, to borrow some other words from your favorite cardigan wearing Christian, the church, when it’s at its best, reminds the world that the question isn’t the suspicious “Can you legally be my neighbor?” or the accusing “Are you my neighbor?”  But rather the invitational “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

You know, to borrow some other words, that Russian voice of resistance, Leo Tolstoy, once wrote that “A person understands his life in its true sense only when he feels God within him and sees God in every person.”

This is why when people tell me that prejudice is a societal problem, I also remind them that it is a spiritual problem: the inability, the refusal, to see God in the person across from you, especially the person who doesn’t look like you.  This is a spiritual malady.

This is why I struggle with the Tolerance bumper stickers. Because I refuse to settle for tolerance. I want to live in a world where we celebrate one another, not just tolerate the other.

Christianity preaches a Christ crucified, and Christ crucified didn’t call his followers to tolerate their neighbors, but to love them. To love them literally to death, because they would kill him for it in the end.

The church, Christianity, is supposed to call powers of this world to this above all else!  It is to call society, to call the powers to forget the reasons, and start loving. It is to remind the powers of the mystery of the person in front of them as being the ground zero of how we start to treat them, not the afterthought.  We must start in suffering with one another, demanding not that people defend their right to exist in order to stick around, but sticking around in the bleak parts of the world courageously defending everyone’s right to exist.

And, of course, the hard part about all of this is that this kind of radical love that the church professes works in all directions.  The person who you disagree with is also part of this mystery of God.  Self-righteousness is just as much a sin as prejudice, because it is the inability to see God in the person across from you, just sitting from the other side.

The church, when its at its best, reminds the us of this, too.

It is to call the powers to move past weak tolerance to a full-throated love. Because, as Dionne Warwick reminds us again and again, “What the world needs now, is love sweet love, it’s the only thing that there’s just, too little of.  What the world needs now, is love sweet love, and no not just for some, but for everyone…

And perhaps, in a sermon where I borrowed so many words from others, it’s best to let Dionne have the final words.  Wait, no.  Let’s give them to Jesus.  Because the church, when it’s at its best, is really just the body of Christ on earth, being Jesus’ presence over and over and over again.  In the midst of all the reasons we give not to love one another, the church says loudly:

“Love one another, as I have loved you.”

 

 

Singing the Old Songs

Protestsong_Intro_491“Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?

Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.  Ooo, ooo, ooo.

What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson?

Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away? Hey hey hey.”

This week my ears are ringing with Paul Simon.  I didn’t get to hear him sing Mrs. Robinson sitting in the nosebleeds this last Tuesday as he said goodbye to domestic touring. The only song (that I can recall…he played for almost three hours) he stole back from his days of collaborating with Art Garfunkel was the lyrically lilting Bridge Over Troubled Water.  Garfunkel still sings that the best, by the way, but Paul held his own in a way that only the parent of those lyrics could.

They are his lyrics.

But he covered most of his solo albums, from the folk-heavy Songbook tracks (Sound of Silence is perhaps the most famous from that offering), to the Caribbean-influenced beats off of Rhythm of the Saints.

And the whole time, sitting up there in the nose bleeds, I could pick up the slight social commentary interjected throughout most of the pieces.

Though Simon comes from the Folk genre, his songs were never as overtly political as many of his contemporaries (though American Tune, written just after the Nixon election is a notable exception…which he sang in wonderful voice on Tuesday).  And yet, if you listened carefully there was still this feeling of resistance running through his lyrics.  A surprise attack on your sensibilities that called you to question what was going on in the world.  Or, more rightly, called the world to question how things were going.  It worked in a subversive way.

Like water slowly eroding a rock.  Like a blister slowly telling you that the shoe doesn’t fit.

Like your conscience.

This little excerpt above from Mrs. Robinson is one such lyrical strand.  You might think it’s simply an oddly placed baseball reference, but Simon was appealing to the idea that, at that moment in time, the world needed some heroes.  It needed the Joltin’ Joe’s to step up, step in, as things spun out of control.

As we’re nearing the end of this part of our sermon series, using Archbishop Rowan Williams’ book Being Disciples, it struck me that the way he talks about the church is kind of like the way a good protest song works in relation to what’s going on in the world: it asks the question.

It’s one of the reasons that the slaves lifted up Moses and sang the liberation songs, even while working the fields.  They, through their telling and re-telling of that salvation story where Egypt gave up ownership of the Israelites, called into question their own bondage.

Or, go way, way back, to that place where the prophet Ezekiel presents the vision of the valley full of dry bones to a broken and confused people, crushed by a disorienting captivity.  God encourages Ezekiel to speak against Jerusalem for serving other gods and giving into the narcissistic King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, promising their bones would rise up and live again, by God.

Being prophetic is dangerous, by the way.  If the scriptures are clear on something, it is that most prophets are demonized and killed by a world that doesn’t like to be questioned.  Slaves were kept from learning to read so that they might not be educated and inspired.  Prophets of the Bible were often hunted down and killed by the powers that be (need we mention Jesus’ own story?) intending to silence them by fear or death.

Which is why the church talks about confession and the sacrament baptism as an act of “dying to self” and “rising with Christ.”  You can’t kill dead people…and Christians are already dead in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  They, when they live out of God’s life-giving, death-defying love, have no fear.

When the church is at its best it is the outside “thing” that calls the question on the social, economic, and political activities of the world.

It is not partisan, but it can’t help but be political.

Another way to think about it is that the church, when it’s doing what it is supposed to do, is God’s resistance song sung for a universe that prefers power and control over love and forgiveness.

The church sings out loud, proclaiming a God known in Christ who claims that no one is disposable; who calls us to invest not in things that rust or rot but rather in faith and one another; who argues that the world already has enough dry bones in it, so we need not create more with war, violence, splitting families apart, and sectarianism, but rather work on putting flesh on those bones, by God.

The church sings subversively.  The Sunday gatherings seem superfluous and innocent to the outside observer, but it is the incubation tank of love and resistance to the pull of a world that continually invites us to see people as less than human, to see money as divine, and to see power as the only real currency worth keeping.

The church sings the old songs for an ever-changing world.  The old songs that God first sang to love creation into being (Celtic Christians still claim God sang the world into being), calling us back to our best, sacrificial, hopeful, loving self.

The church, at its best, calls for the hero of the story, an ancient guy from Galilee named Jesus, to get on the scene.

It reminds the world that its lonely eyes that are so full of war and violence and greed, all things that leave its actions and policies and pursuits empty (why do we fill ourselves with things that leave us empty?!), can turn to the one who welcomed the outcast, forgave the unforgivable, ate with the stranger, saved the sinner, and gave up his life for his friends.

The church, with its very life as its old, old song, reminds the world how to truly live, by God.

That it can truly live, by God.

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