Is There a Balm in Charlottesville?

Photo credit here. 

S (Scripture): Jeremiah 8

19 Listen to the weeping of my people
all across the land:
“Isn’t the Lord in Zion?
Is her king no longer there?”
Why then did they anger me with their images,
with pointless foreign gods?
20 “The harvest is past,
the summer has ended,
yet we aren’t saved.”
21 Because my people are crushed,
I am crushed;
darkness and despair overwhelm me.

22 Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then have my people
not been restored to health?

O (Observation): Jeremiah sees the devastation of God’s people who have taken up their own idols as their gods.  And they weep.  And Jeremiah cries out: “Is there no balm in Gilead?!”

Jeremiah laments.  

A balm is a salve, an ointment used for healing, for bringing relief. Jeremiah didn’t see any relief coming anytime soon.  Not from a salve.  Not from a king.  Not even from God…at least, not yet.  

So at first, Jeremiah laments. 

A (Application):  Most of us probably don’t think of Scripture when we hear the word “balm.”   We think “lip balm.”   But that’s not what Jeremiah is talking about, now is it?

In light of the hatred shown by the white supremacists in Charlottesville this past weekend, the ugly underbelly of bigotry and prejudice in our society has been exposed once again.  The prejudice and bigotry by whites against blacks has always been there.   Sometimes we play nice enough to get by…but give a group of white supremacists a chance to wave Nazi flags and carry torches…and the truth comes out.  

We still have a segment of our society that truly sees itself as above the other…as whites being better than blacks, as “whatever they are” being above “Jews.”   Where in the world do they get this?  Well…for too long, we have let it slide.  We let racist comments go, because we don’t want to get our hands dirty, or we want folks to like us, so we laugh at their racist and bigoted jokes.  

We (as white folks) have no one to blame but ourselves when it comes to the existence of white supremacists.   

We lament, first, as Jeremiah did.  And just as Jeremiah cried out, “Is there no balm in Gilead?”, we cry out, “Is there no balm, in Charlottesville?”

I think there is a balm in Charlottesville.   The young UVA students who assisted a group of folks gathered for an interfaith prayer service on the UVA campus…they are a balm.   The clergy and leaders of various faith communities marching – arm in arm – through the streets of Charlottesville are a balm.   The folks I gathered with in Murfreesboro, TN, last Sunday night for a peaceful vigil are a balm.  

God would eventually send a balm in the person of Jesus Christ, but before that, God told Jeremiah that God would put The Law in their hearts.  That when the people of Judah and Israel were scattered…God would be with them. 

Sometimes we can’t sense the balm.  Sometimes we can.   Perhaps, God can work through folks like you and I to be that balm in our own home towns.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help me to serve you and my hurting neighbors.  Amen. 

A Sermon in Response to Charlottesville Chaos – 8/13/2017

10th Sunday After Pentecost – Lectionary 19

Sunday, August 13, 2017

1 Kings 19:9-18; Psalm 85:8-13; Romans 10:5-15; MATTHEW 14:22-33

 

I’m angry…I don’t think it’s good to write a sermon when you’re angry…

I’m angry about what’s going on in Charlottesville…

If you don’t know, up in Charlottesville, a group of folks rallied together

Their purpose:  oppose the pending removal of a General Robert E. Lee statue

This demonstration resulted in protestors organizing

And like a fuse being lit…

it was just a matter of time until things got out of hand

Tensions rise…

People start acting irrational.  Mob mentality sets in.  US vs. THEM – VIOLENCE!

And then some fool races down a street full of people, likely a mix of demonstrators and protestors, rams into a stopped car, causing a chain reaction of accidents, and literally sends people flying into the crowd, injuring dozens, and killing one

Fights break out along racial lines

This is happening in 2017 people!!!

This isn’t Detroit, 1967…This is Charlottesville, VA, 2017!!!

WAKE UP, PEOPLE!

This is hatred…this is a demonstration of evil…

In OUR TIME, people! In OUR TIME!

I want to point fingers and I want to BLAME PEOPLE!!!…but I’m not going to today…

I’m not gonna blame the President.  I’m not gonna blame the demonstrators.  I’m not gonna blame those protesting the demonstrators.

You know who I’m gonna start with?  I’m gonna take a selfie and I’m gonna take a long, hard look at the person in that selfie and I’m gonna work on that person, first…and I invite you to do the same.  Take a selfie!  Put it on social media…  #SpiritLeadMe

Every time we ignore the invitation to get to know someone of a different race, we are part of the problem.

Every time we ignore the invitation to get to know someone of a different religion, we are part of the problem.

Every time we fail to speak out against ANY injustice: Homelessness, access to healthcare, racism, bigotry, prejudice, we are part of the problem.

#SpiritLeadMe

And do you know the saddest part of this terrifying moment?

Fear robs us of the abundant life God intends for us

Peter and the disciples are full of hope and passion, and yet full of fear

They’ve seen the abundance of God in the feeding of the 5,000…but now…out in the boat…living through a storm of their own…a literal storm…Jesus comes out walking on the water.

They are scared! Tired!  Worn!  In the midst of their fears, they recognize Jesus, and Peter wants to come and walk on water, too!

May we all be foolish enough like Peter…silly, blind faith to step out…and he did it…for a few steps…And then he starts to sink.  As Peter is sinking…he shouts, “Lord, save me!”

Matthew 14:31   31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

And I pray that white churches all across America, today, are crying out, “Lord save us!”

And Jesus reaches his hand out…

You see, Peter needed saving…he walked on a water a bit…but he still needed saving

And I can say the same for us…We will take a few steps, but we need prayer…we need Jesus now more than ever.

Folks, we all have fears…but God helps us to TRANSCEND our fears.

And you know what my fear is, right now?  That I’ve been wrong…My fear is that I have not done enough to stand up for justice for the poor, the outcast, and that I haven’t really stood with my African-American brothers and sisters

#SpiritLeadMe

But I recall…that Jesus didn’t let Peter drown…

Jesus didn’t let those disciples drown…

And Jesus ain’t gonna let us drown! No, sir!

And we are gonna seek God’s holy wisdom, right now…

We are gonna walk out on the waters…and face our fears…

 

“A litany for predominantly white spaces, against white supremacy”
Written by Revs. Elizabeth Rawlings and Jennifer Chrien

Gracious and loving God,
In the beginning, you created humanity and declared us very good
We were made in Africa, came out of Egypt.
Our beginnings, all of our beginnings, are rooted in dark skin.
We are all siblings. We are all related.
We are all your children.

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all your children.

Violence entered creation through Cain and Abel.
Born of jealousy, rooted in fear of scarcity,
Brother turned against brother
The soil soaked with blood, Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are our brothers keeper.

When your people cried out in slavery,
You heard them. You did not ignore their suffering.
You raised up leaders who would speak truth to power
And lead your people into freedom.
Let us hear your voice; grant us the courage to answer your call.
Guide us towards justice and freedom for all people.

We are all siblings, we are all related, we all deserve to be free.

Through the prophets you told us the worship you want is for us
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke;
Yet we continue to serve our own interest,
To oppress our workers, to crush our siblings by the neck because we are afraid.
Because they don’t look like us, act like us, talk like us.
Yet, they are us. And we are them.

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are not free unless ALL are free

In great love you sent to us Jesus, your Son,
Born in poverty, living under the rule of a foreign empire,
Brown-skinned, dark-haired, middle-Eastern.
They called him Yeshua, your Son,
Who welcomed the unwelcome, accepted the unacceptable—
The foreigners, the radicals, the illiterate, the poor,
The agents of empire and the ones who sought to overthrow it,
The men and women who were deemed unclean because of their maladies.

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all disciples.

The faith of Christ spread from region to region, culture to culture.
You delight in the many voices, many languages, raised to you.
You teach us that in Christ, “There is no Jew or Greek, there is no slave or free, there is no male and female.”
In Christ, we are all one.
Not in spite of our differences, but in them.
Black, brown, and white; female, non-binary, and male; citizen and immigrant,
In Christ we are all one.

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all one in Christ.
(One in Christ, who calmed the seas, who walked on water, who saved Peter from drowning.)

Each week, we confess our sin to you and to one another.
We know that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.
We are captive to the sin of white supremacy,
Which values some lives more than others,
Which believes some skin tones are more perfect than others,
Which commits violence against those who are different.
We confess our complicity in this sin.
We humbly repent.
We ask for the strength to face our sin, to dismantle it, and to be made anew
We trust in your compassion and rely on your mercy
Praying that you will give us your wisdom and guide us in your way of peace,
That you will renew us as you renew all of creation
In accordance with your will.

We ask this, we pray this, as your children, all siblings, all related, all beloved children of God.

Amen

I feel like I’m starting…just barely, to understand why folks would need to sing a song that goes like this:  “Precious Lord, take my hand, Lead me on, let me stand, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn. Through the storm, through the night, Lead me on to the light Take my hand precious Lord, Lead me home.”

Jesus won’t let US drown…Jesus is the abundant life!

Here at the table…at the font…we see abundance…we see hope…

God is with us in our sin…in our fears…

When the winds of life are overwhelming us, when a city like Charlottesville is under siege, when called upon, I urge you to step out in faith…to confront hatred, with love; to stand up when others are dismissed

And when you step out…and you start to sink…

Remember: Jesus will be there…and he ain’t gonna check out your skin color before he reaches his hand out to save you…

#SpiritLeadMe

Spirit Lead Me.

Spirit Lead Us!

Amen

In Case of Rapture…

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S (Scripture): 1 Thessalonians 5:9 God didn’t intend for us to suffer his wrath but rather to possess salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 Jesus died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with him. 11 So continue encouraging each other and building each other up, just like you are doing already.

O (Observation):  Many in Paul’s time wondered when Jesus was coming back.  For many of that time, who believed that Jesus was the Son of God, Jesus’ return was thought to be imminent.  Like…tomorrow is Jesus’ likely time of return.   And because of this, many lived in fear.  They feared Jesus’ return, because they feared that they might be doing something “wrong” when Jesus comes back.  

So Paul reminds the people that Jesus was not about causing fear, but rather, salvation!   Jesus was about overcoming the gap in relationship between the people and God.  Death was the greatest gap between God and God’s people, and God overcame that gap by allowing Jesus to suffer and die, then be raised.   In being raised, Jesus overcame the power of sin and death.   

So, whether they are awake or asleep (that is, alive or dead) they are the Lord’s!  In other words, God is always with you.  So keep going about your work and stop worrying about your salvation being dependent upon the action you are engaging in at the exact moment Jesus comes back.   Instead, keep encouraging each other that God wishes for you to carry out your daily duties…and to do so with joy.   

A (Application):  I saw a bumper sticker once that said: “WARNING: In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.”   I’ve also seen some that say: “In case of rapture, can I have your car?”

Obviously, the second sticker is a humorous response to the first.   But the first sticker represents a whole concept that inspires fear in Christian believers.   And unfortunately, that fear creates a sub-culture within Christianity that revolves around “doing / looking good for Jesus.”   The problem with this line of thinking is that – if we’re being honest – we will falter, and thus, we will be stressed out over our eternal salvation. 

Paul reminded those in Thessalonica that Jesus’ return was a joy, not a fear!

To non-Christians, the whole rapture component looks like cleaning up the house real quick before the parents come home.  Can’t let them know we had that party!   Quick, sweep that junk under the rug.  Toss out the beer cans!   Spray the Lysol EVERYWHERE.   

Look…God is bigger than our faults and failures…and the times in Scripture when God is most disappointed with us is when we try to cover up our faults and pretend that we are faithful, when we are not.  God is angry with empty praise and empty worship.   

God can handle our faults.  God simply requires a repentant heart.    God takes care of the rest.  

So let us encourage others – Christians and non-Christians alike – to be honest with one another and to humbly seek God’s forgiveness and the wideness of God’s mercy.   

P (Prayer): Lord, give us hearts of joy, not fear.  Amen.  

Walking Alongside Others


Photo credit here. 

S (Scripture): Jeremiah 2

11 Has a nation switched gods,
though they aren’t really gods at all?
Yet my people have exchanged their glory
for what has no value.
12 Be stunned at such a thing, you heavens;
shudder and quake, declares the Lord.
13 My people have committed two crimes:
They have forsaken me, the spring of living water.
And they have dug wells, broken wells that can’t hold water.

O (Observation):  God declares to Jeremiah that God’s people have turned away from God.   They look elsewhere for their hope and salvation (dug wells), even though God saved them from slavery in Egypt.  Unfortunately for the people, these “wells they have dug” appear to be broken alternatives of hope to replace God.   

God declares that this action is worthy of making folks shake in their boots!  Scary enough that the heavens should shudder and quake!

A (Application):  How many alternative routes have we come up with for comfort, hope and salvation?   And how many are simply broken wells?  

The American Dream of building a family, a business, an independent life is one such well (or set of wells).    Yet for so many, these dreams are false dreams, a lie many people strive towards.   Or maybe out of ignorance or a lack of imagination, folks pursue this dream.  And in the wake of the pursuit of this dream lies destruction, pain, anger.   Sometimes the dream is just a well we have dug for ourselves…a broken well that holds nothing.  

So much of the American Dream has turned into a sloven pursuit for self-indulgence and comfort.   I’ve got mine.  Sorry.  You need to get your own.  

I’m not advocating that we don’t take responsibility for our own lives.  I simply would like compassion and humility to be factored into our pursuits.    Maybe invite other along the way with us.   Befriending folks, instead of dismissing them!   This is the way of Jesus.  Living a life not just for the self, but also for the other.   

Living life in a state of thankfulness for what God has given to us is a great start.   Then, let us realize that our way forward is to help others along the way.   This is a great next step. 

P (Prayer):  God, you sustain us with your grace.  Continue the work of grace in us.  Amen. 

Why Worship?


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S (Scripture): Colossians 3:12 Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. 14 And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 The peace of Christ must control your hearts—a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people. 16 The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.

O (Observation): Paul teaches a clear ethic of love and forgiveness.  Caring for one another is at the heart of Paul’s words.   Be kind to one another, not just for your sake or the sake of the one you interact with…but for the Lord’s sake, as well.    

The word of Christ must dwell in you, richly.   Not only Jesus himself, but also songs and scriptures.   Paul calls his people to constantly remind themselves of the forgiveness and mercy that God has shown to God’s people throughout history.   In recalling theses words through song and readings, Paul reminds his folks that they will be close to the heart of God…and doing God’s work. 

A (Application):  Every week during worship, in our liturgy, in our songs, in our readings, we recall God’s saving acts of forgiveness, love, and mercy.  Many don’t realize, but the liturgy in Lutheran worship is steeped in the words of scripture.   We know much more of the scriptures than we give ourselves credit for.   Folks might not be able to recall chapter and verse of some of the scriptures, but it does enter their hearts and minds.   And it enters the hearts and minds of our little ones, too!   This is why we love having our children in worship with us.  

We can learn a lot during worship, but for Lutherans, worship is not just a time for learning.  Worship is also a time for absorbing God’s dynamic presence: through symbols, through sacraments, through hearing and reading God’s word directly, through singing hymns and psalms, and though God’s word proclaimed and prayed.   

We sing and proclaim and share God’s peace with one another, all for God’s glory.  This practice is then carried out into the world.  We gather weekly to be reminded of who and whose we are.  We are then equipped and sent into the world to love and serve our neighbors. 

Worship shapes us.   Worship is not just for “me and Jesus.”   Worship transforms the rest of our lives…until we gather again, in God’s name, to be reminded of who and whose we are.   

May we capture this sense of grace and share it in the world today.  

P (Prayer): Lord, gather us in, equip us, send us forth to serve.  Amen.  

Why Did Jesus Die For Us? 

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S (Scripture): Isaiah 53:3 He was despised and avoided by others; a man who suffered, who knew sickness well.
Like someone from whom people hid their faces, he was despised, and we didn’t think about him.
4 It was certainly our sickness that he carried,
and our sufferings that he bore,
but we thought him afflicted,
struck down by God and tormented.
5 He was pierced because of our rebellions
and crushed because of our crimes.
He bore the punishment that made us whole;
by his wounds we are healed.
6 Like sheep we had all wandered away,
each going its own way,
but the Lord let fall on him all our crimes.

10 But the Lord wanted to crush him and to make him suffer. If his life is offered as restitution, he will see his offspring; he will enjoy long life. The Lord’s plans will come to fruition through him.
11 After his deep anguish he will see light, and he will be satisfied.
Through his knowledge, the righteous one, my servant, will make many righteous, and will bear their guilt.
12 Therefore, I will give him a share with the great, and he will divide the spoil with the strong, in return for exposing his life to death and being numbered with rebels, though he carried the sin of many and pleaded on behalf of those who rebelled.

O (Observation): The Suffering Servant – the name many have given to this character described here in Isaiah 53 – is known to many as a foretelling of the Savior to come, Jesus the Christ.

This servant comes to bear the shame and sin of God’s people (of all humanity?)…

God let fall on this servant all of our brokenness, all of our punishment.

A (Application): For Christians…the fact that a servant of God – named Jesus – suffered and made us whole and redeemed us from the power of sin and death and eternal damnation is pretty clear. What is not so clear – and what is the fundamental difference between many lines within Christian thought is this: the reason “why” God gives a suffering servant is not as apparent to us.

Many have argued that we screwed up and that Jesus died in our place. As if God was angry and needed appeasing (penal substitutionary atonement theory). This assumes that we needed God to change God’s mind about us.  That God demanded a sacrifice to be appeased, that God might look kindly upon us again.   The result: God needs satisfaction (blood), Jesus saves our hides, we should feel guilty about this.    

Parts of this view are helpful, and some parts are not so helpful.  

Instead, I lean into what is known as the Christus Victor atonement theory, which is to say that through Jesus taking on our sins and sickness, and finally succumbing to these to the point of death, and then in being resurrected, God overcomes theses evil powers and sets us free from them.   In this case, we need not feel guilty (repentant, yes; guilty, maybe), but empowered by God’s grace.  And in this case, God’s mind is not changed about how to love God’s people. No…in this view, our mind is changed about God.  God is not vindictive.   God is love.  Sacrificial love.  Now we have something to emulate.  Now we have something we can learn from God.   Sacrifice for others, that others might know of God’s great love.  In this is freedom.  

Yeah…that’s it for me.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, keep my mind open to your love and empower me to serve my neighbor.  Amen.  

Who Defines “Contentment”?

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S (Scripture): Philippians 4:10 [Paul writes] I was very glad in the Lord because now at last you have shown concern for me again. (Of course you were always concerned but had no way to show it.) 11 I’m not saying this because I need anything, for I have learned how to be content in any circumstance. 12 I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. 13 I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.

O (Observation): Paul is wrapping up his letter to the church in Philippi. He knows that his fellow Jesus-followers in Philippi have supported him all along, but he must have been able to receive some concrete form of support from them. He mentions "you have shown concern for me again…". He knows they have cared for him all along, but seeing a gift is like icing on the cake.

But in any case, Paul is content. He is happy whether or not he receive tangible evidence of support, because he has discovered something even more powerful and effective: endurance through the power of Jesus.

Paul has had plenty and has had little. In both cases, he was content. This is the Gospel strength: in much or in want, he can be content, with strength to endure though Jesus.

A (Application): When was the last time you were truly content?

Being content is difficult in our consumerist society. You are constantly reminded of what you don't have. For Paul, he had times when he had very little; he had times when he didn't even have his freedom (imprisoned).

Paul was gifted with strength to endure times of want…and to find contentment even with very little in hand. He found his strength in Jesus.

With strength through Jesus to become content, what does this do for us? Being content allows us to focus less on ourselves, and opens us to care for others. Unfortunately, this looks like foolishness to the world. So not only do we have to contend with personal struggles of denying ourselves, the world is also on our back, demanding that we look out for me, myself, and I…first and foremost.

The only thing to counter these struggles (which Jesus has already overcome) is to lean on Jesus' strength.

I suggest we learn about others needs, in the meantime. Especially listening to those who are NOT like us. (For me, "us" means white, male, Protestant.)

I have a lot to learn about those around me. My understanding of contentment may have to be different than the understanding of contentment to the homeless community, the black community, the Hispanic community, the gay and lesbian community, the atheist community.

I wonder if there is a difference.

I won't know…until I listen.

P (Prayer): Lord, help me to listen. Amen.