Murfreesboro Loves 2018 – a Commemoration

S (Scripture): John 3:16 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17 God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.

19 “This is the basis for judgment: The light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the light, for their actions are evil. 20 All who do wicked things hate the light and don’t come to the light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the light. 21 Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.”

O (Observation): Jesus converses with a Pharisee who wants so badly to believe. But the stumbling blocks keep getting in the way. Jesus encourages him to let the light shine on all we say and do. In that, we will the encounter the death of our old self, and experience a new beginning.

A (Application): Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. ”

On Sunday, October 28, 2018, Reformation Sunday for my tribe of Lutherans, the community of Murfreesboro will gather on the square for a commemoration of the day – one year ago – when our community lifted up love rather than hate. We displayed this unity on a day known as Murfreesboro Loves.

May we be born anew. May we see hope in the midst of despair, patience in the face of evil. God, sustain me; sustain us.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us your light always. Amen.

How Many Gods are There?

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S (Scripture): Joshua 24:14 Joshua said: “So now, revere the Lord. Serve him honestly and faithfully. Put aside the gods that your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and serve the Lord. 15 But if it seems wrong in your opinion to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Choose the gods whom your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But my family and I will serve the Lord.”

O (Observation): Commitment to God is always voluntary. This is the point Joshua makes:

God’s helped us this far…but if you see something more enticing…go for it. You see a local deity in this newly settled land of ours, and that seems right, go for it.

Just know this – declares Joshua – my family and I…we choose the Lord.

A (Application): The other day our 5 year old daughter asks us: “How many gods are there?” We said “one.” Then I thought back to Martin Luther’s explanation of the 10 Commandments in the Large Catechism and tried to explain that the thing we wish for the most is like a god to us. The thing we give our all for is our god.

Making the football team can become a god. Becoming a concert pianist can become a god. Getting everyone to like you can become your god. Having wealth can become your god. Being overly organized or overly organic can become your god. ANYTHING to which you give your allegiance can become your god.

Now, those items I listed are NOT all bad things. Having goals and contributing your gifts to the world are great. But at what level are you giving yourself to that thing / goal / desire?

Here’s the rub: I choose the Lord. Now, some days I’m great at faith and some days I suck at it. But the invitation my family and I have accepted is that we desire to be people of God, following in Jesus’ footsteps. We practice living into this invitation – as a family – as ELCA Lutherans as a part of the congregation of Advent Lutheran Church, Murfreesboro, TN. (TheAdventChurch.com).

You have another way of following God? Great! You want to choose another god, that’s up to you. Don’t hear me pressuring you.

I invite you to our faith community or to one of our worship services or events. Connect with us in some way to journey together with us, to practice applying faith together, to messing up and to being forgiven…TOGETHER!

P (Prayer): Lord, I believe, help my unbelief! Amen.

Community Action: Murfreesboro Loves

S (Scripture): Psalm 44

1

We have heard it, God, with our own ears;

our ancestors told us about it:

about the deeds you did in their days,

in days long past.

2

You, by your own hand, removed all the nations,

but you planted our ancestors.

You crushed all the peoples,

but you set our ancestors free.

3

No, not by their own swords

did they take possession of the land—

their own arms didn’t save them.

No, it was your strong hand, your arm,

and the light of your face

because you were pleased with them.

4

It’s you, God! You who are my king,

the one who orders salvation for Jacob.

5

We’ve pushed our foes away by your help;

we’ve trampled our enemies by your name.

6

No, I won’t trust in my bow;

my sword won’t save me

7

because it’s you who saved us from our foes,

you who put those who hate us to shame.

8

So we glory in God at all times

and give thanks to your name forever.

O (Observation): Victory is declared for God’s people, here. The psalmist calls on the stories from the ancestors. Stories of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to God’s people.

One must read this Psalm closely to see that the author does not take the credit for the victory: this is God’s doing.

Perhaps this is a Psalm about the return of God’s people back to the Promised Land after exile in Babylon. Or, it could be a story about how God’s people were first settled into the Promised Land after returning for centuries of slavery in Egypt. Either way, God leads the action.

This last statement is paramount. God leads. The people are not relying on their swords or bows. God leads.

A (Application): Today, I speak as part of a 3-person panel at Middle TN State University regarding a community action in October 2017, in which several hundred folks gathered against the hateful ideology of white supremacists who wished to hold a demonstration in Murfreesboro. I was just one of many folks who wished to gather in the name of love to hold an alternative demonstration. Not to confront the whole supremacist group, but to get ahead of the narrative: white supremacist ideologies are not welcome.

Police were present on the square in downtown Murfreesboro, where the permit was granted for this group to speak and hold their demonstration. The white supremacists never showed up. Delayed by the security checkpoints down in Shelbyville, where they held their first demonstration of the day, they decided the effort was not going to come to fruition in Murfreesboro. Some folks still showed up on the Murfreesboro square…but way, way less than anticipated.

So…should we have just stayed home? I think not. I think God stirred up something in those of us who gathered. I think we came together as a people, as a city. And I think God caused each of us to be a bit more convicted about what role each of has to play in this city.

Many people from many faiths and backgrounds came out on October 17, 2017, under the umbrella of what we called “Murfreesboro Loves: a Community Action Against Hate.”

We sent a message: you can say what you want, but we will not welcome messages of white supremacy or bigotry in this town. Yes, they can choose to go elsewhere and share their messages, but we hope to be a beacon of light that shines far and wide.

I am humbled that my family and I were part of something so moving and terrifying and solidifying. I am most grateful that no one was hurt that day. I am also saddened that in 2017, we still had to gather against such hate.

I hope God continues to watch over us and grant peace as we beat our swords into plowshares.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us hopeful in you, in your ways. Keep us from relying on weapons and relying more on You. Amen.

#MurfreesboroLoves – Relationship and Challenge

S (Scripture): Matthew 10:16 [Jesus said to the disciples:] “Look, I’m sending you as sheep among wolves. Therefore, be wise as snakes and innocent as doves. 17 Watch out for people—because they will hand you over to councils and they will beat you in their synagogues. 18 They will haul you in front of governors and even kings because of me so that you may give your testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19 Whenever they hand you over, don’t worry about how to speak or what you will say, because what you can say will be given to you at that moment. 20 You aren’t doing the talking, but the Spirit of my Father is doing the talking through you…”

O (Observation): Invitation and Challenge. This is the way of discipleship with Jesus. Jesus has invited his disciples to be in a very close relationship, in order to help them know that he is with them every step of the way. He also tells them of the challenges they will face. But what makes the challenges bearable is that Jesus is with them…in a close relationship.

Jesus not only sees these followers as friends, but as those who will carry on Jesus’ own work. And here, he doesn’t mix words. They will face difficult challenges. They will be beaten (in their place of worship, no less!).

And yet, even as they are called forth to speak to their actions and testimonies…they will be given the words to say…words supplied by the Spirit.

The Spirit comes to them in the midst of their challenge…borne out of an invitation to be with and follow Jesus.

A (Application): How do I share my thoughts and feelings on certain topics and still maintain the relationships I have? Who will keep me? Who will push me away? Would the pain be worth the pushing and pulling? Will I be better off in the long run?

Ever asked yourself these questions?

So often, we have ideas that conflict with others, but we are afraid to voice those concerns. We are afraid of what others might think, or be afraid of what consequences we might face.

Can we have differences and still be friends? Unfortunately, when it comes to religious beliefs, we feel we cannot have differences AND be friendly to one another.

I’m thankful that God has granted me many friendships in which we simply don’t see eye to eye in terms of religious understanding. One such example is the Murfreesboro Loves movement. We are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, B’ahi, atheist, agnostic, gay, straight, black, white, Hispanic, and so on. We are not defined by color, race, creed…we are defined by a shared communal value of love for our neighbor.

I believe God has given each of us the gifts to speak up and testify about why loving our neighbor is so important. To the point that we were recognized (as a communal group) by the Murfreesboro Branch of the NAACP at a recent MLK Jr Breakfast. Murfreesboro Loves received the Jerry Anderson Humanitarian Award for its work surrounding the planned visit by white supremacist groups who wished to come to Murfreesboro. Our message of love outshined any potential messages of hate that those groups could have brought to our town.

We were determined to be defined by love, not hate. And we did our job. For me, this was about trusting that God’s call in my life was to step out into a potentially risky situation…to speak up when called upon…to trust that God’s relationship with me would sustain me in challenging times…to physically protect me and my family.

I certainly think God kept God’s end of the bargain. And I think God is still at it.

What say you?

P (Prayer): Lord, you bless me. I am unworthy, but you pick me up, send me out, and give me the words anyway. I am blessed. Amen.

Coldest Nights

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S (Scripture): Psalm 12:1 Help, Lord, because the godly are all gone;
the faithful have completely disappeared
from the human race!
2 Everyone tells lies to everyone else;
they talk with slick speech and divided hearts.
3 Let the Lord cut off all slick-talking lips
and every tongue that brags and brags,
4 that says, “We’re unbeatable with our tongues!
Who could get the best of us with lips like ours?”

5 But the Lord says,
“Because the poor are oppressed,
because of the groans of the needy,
I’m now standing up.
I will provide the help they are gasping for.”

6 The Lord’s promises are pure,
like silver that’s been refined in an oven,
purified seven times over!
7 You, Lord, will keep us,
protecting us from this generation forever.
8 The wicked roam all over the place,
while depravity is praised by human beings.

O (Observation): The psalmist speaks from a place of despair once again. Yet hope remains because God makes a promise to feed and support the oppressed. And God’s promises are “tried and true.”

But what does a fulfilled promise from God look like? Is it something that appears out of thin air? Are God’s promises fulfilled through people? Perhaps it is both!

A (Application): Some people say that prayer works in this way: “Pray that hungry are fed. Then, go out and feed the hungry.” We can Pray and pray and pray…and maybe, by some miracle, God will answer that prayer. God has done this for many (as we see in Scripture). God can certainly work in this way.

And yet, I can’t help but feel called to step into action, because I have been given a willing spirit – at times a broken spirit, but a willing spirit, nonetheless. A spirit willing to serve those in need (and to learn from those seeking help). A spirit willing to speak up about injustices and encourage others to work towards justice. A spirit willing to encourage conversation and to even get in the public square to right wrongs and to feed and clothe those in need.

But in all of this, I know that God is who calls me to action. And as I look around our community of Murfreesboro, I see Christians, atheists, Muslims, B’ahi, agnostics…All coming together to serve one another…to walk with one another. And I am encouraged. The wicked will not win out. God calls all people from all walks of life to serve and encourage one another.

Today, my wife and I continue that work, by making some mashed potatoes for the local homeless women’s freeze shelter (opens when temps dip below freezing). Murfreesboro Cold Patrol facilitates these shelters through what it calls Coldest Nights program. They work with local law enforcement and volunteers who seek out some of the homeless to come in off the streets for a meal and a warm place to stay. Day shelters assist during the day time, but for tonight…in a cold and snowy Murfreesboro (with temps below ZERO), we work together to feed and house folks. Perhaps tonight, we will save a life. Or better yet, God might further open my eyes to become even more concerned and involved in getting to know more about these fine folks who have no place to lay their head at night.

P (Prayer): Lord, give me strength and a willing spirit. Amen.

Click here to learn more about the Murfreesboro Cold Patrol and the Coldest Nights shelter.

Abundance – Giving & Receiving

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S (Scripture): Psalm 144: 9 I will sing a new song to you, God.
I will sing praises to you on a ten-stringed harp,
10 to you—the one who gives saving help to rulers,
and who rescues his servant David from the evil sword.
11 Rescue me and deliver me from the power of strangers,
whose mouths speak lies,
and whose strong hand is a strong hand of deception,
12 so that our sons can grow up fully, in their youth, like plants;
so that our daughters can be like pillars carved to decorate a palace;
13 so that our barns can be full, providing all kinds of food;
so that our flocks can be in the thousands—
even tens of thousands—in our fields;
14 so that our cattle can be loaded with calves;
so that there won’t be any breach in the walls,
no exile, no outcries in our streets!

O (Observation): The abundance found in God is described here by the psalmist – an abundance beyond joy, beyond measure. Hope springs eternal for the follower of God.

A (Application): The hope and abundance found in God comes in many forms. We hope our sons and daughters bear fruit in their own special ways. We pray that our storehouses are filled and that our jobs bring abundance.

This is our hope. Reality sometimes does not match this hope, however. But this still remains our hope. That all will be fed and that all who have need will be satisfied.

In the meantime, we will feed the hungry, we will gather together and do our best to make sure all are fed and that none have need.

In my church setting, we work with the Murfreesboro Cold Patrol, Roots for Refugees & Murfreesboro Muslim Youth, The Journey Home, Coldest Nights Women’s Shelter. These are some ways in which this psalm is coming to fruition for many people who have need in Murfreesboro. And this is also helping us to see our need to be humble, broken, and filled with the Spirit.

May we be God’s hands and feet this day.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to be another person’s abundance. And help them to be our abundance. Amen.

The Voice of Truth is Love

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S (Scripture): 1 John 3:18 Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth. 19 This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts in God’s presence… 23 This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love each other as he commanded us.

O (Observation): The community to which this letter is written is encouraged to let their actions match their words. A set of doctrines and beliefs will not suffice for sharing faith. No, actions would need to follow up with the words spoken. This benefits not just the immediate community that considers itself followers of Jesus, but also those who witness the words and actions of this community.

Outsiders will hear the words of this community, and if the words don’t match the actions, the outsiders will see this as hypocrisy. Instead, the author encourages the community to be true to one another.

A (Application): When members of a church love each other and love those in their community with unconditional love, the truth will be experienced in its fullness. Sometimes we get this, sometimes we don’t.

But the grace is that we have this love to begin with! The Spirit gives us truth and we will know this when we love one another.

Our recent #MurfreesboroLoves movement in our town is a great expression of this love. Some think we are naive. I think we are living the truth.

When we have truth, we will show care for rape victims by believing them and (in appropriate ways) walking with them through difficult testimonies and trials. We will care for the perpetrator by not ridiculing them, yet still calling for justice to be done (which may mean getting released from their jobs or contracts, or engagements, etc.).

Love covers many wrongs. Anyone who has wronged someone can – in love – seek forgiveness. Our laws still hold true, as does our justice system, but our call is to love people through those challenging processes so that truth…love…prevails.

P (Prayer): Lord, take our frustrations, that love and light might shine through the darkness. Amen.