I’ve been thinking about the symbolism of clerical robes, such as this one I’m wearing this morning. The founders of Protestantism replaced showy liturgical vestments with this rather boring scholar’s robe because they wanted the focus to be on the teaching of the Word – not on what they saw as vanity and spectacle. They wanted their congregants to focus on the internals, not the externals, of our faith.
This emphasis on what is being preached vs who is doing the preaching (or what they looked like) is rooted in the early Church’s determination to not make an idol of the person of Christ. This is why we do not know what Jesus the human being looked like. Every image we have of him was created long after all who actually knew him were gone.
John makes this same point. He tells us Jesus said to Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Everyone in that room believed because they saw Jesus alive again, in person. But Jesus is warning them that his physical presence is actually an impediment to their ministry.
He said those who came after them would believe without seeing, and would be blessed. Jesus’ words, and the gift of the Holy Spirit that we receive through Him, are what matters – not his physical form.
This morning I’m also reflecting on John’s beautiful summation of Jesus’ entire ministry: “Peace be with you all.” …I also see it as the shortest complete sermon in the Christian Scriptures, so perhaps I should just stop right here.
From a jail cell in Birmingham in 1963, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that “whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly” and that we all must repent not merely for the hateful words and actions of some, but for our own silence.
The preacher wrote that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; but comes through the tireless efforts of those of us willing to be co-workers with God, and that without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of stagnation and hate.
What to do when we find our Faith no longer matches up with the facts as we now know them?
For thousands of years people have found the bones of huge, weird animals – unlike any creature now on Earth – embedded in rock. They are often very lizard-like, sometimes even have wings. So, many of our ancestors believed they were dragons that lived in rock, and had perished in Noah’s flood.
A certain kind of these remains are easy to find, often eroding out of shale cliffs near seashores. People thought they looked like a tongue, and so once called these fossils “Dragon’s Tongues.”
Going forward from here, the question is not what can our leaders do for us, but what we, as people of Faith, must do to heal our country and our world.
Many of us who are Democrats or Liberals are angry and/or despondent at the failure of the Second Impeachment attempt of our ex-president.
Consider that in voting to acquit the ex-president the GOP has refused to join with America as a whole to deal with the problem. He is now their problem, and theirs alone.
It will be telling to see how – or if – they attempt to deal with his blatantly criminal behavior and failure to uphold his oath of office (among other things); and whether the internal strife his failed presidency has engendered within their ranks will rip the party apart, or transform it into an unapologetically racist and even violent movement.
But the Democrats are not blameless in all of this…
I returned to my pew, sweating and shaking; and had to completely rethink what had been a lifelong thoroughly intellectual and theologically liberal Protestant faith. I realized that relationships, especially my relationship with God, were much more than just logic. Relationships require emotion, passion, and love.
On this sunny, snowy, cold morning I am remembering a child that was born in (if I remember right) October of 1992. Her mother had been quite ill throughout the pregnancy, and the little girl was extremely premature. She suffered from numerous medical problems, nearly all of which were likely to be fatal. And yet that December, after a long stay in The Mayo Clinic’s Neonatal ICU and numerous surgeries, she was finally able to go home.
Although many of her immediate health challenges had been overcome, her microcephalic brain was not so easily repaired: it was 1/3rd the volume it should have been. Her parents were told she would be a “vegetable for the rest of her life.”
I love this country. I always have. But the last few years in the USA have left me truly aghast. Just when I think that there are no more surprises left in American political life, I am handed a freshly squeezed surprise. Bluntly put, I think we’ve reached the point where Donald Trump could drown a bag of kittens on live TV, or indeed “shoot someone on 5th Avenue”, and some people will still consider him the lesser of two evils.
The way I see it, there are two types of Trump voter. There is the hardcore MAGA fanatic, who attends the rallies, wears the red hat, and maybe even follows the Qanon boards. They follow Trump with a level of devotion that is implacable. They will never believe that Donald Trump is anything other than the savior of our country, sent by God to deliver us from a multitude…
We once invited several families with children my son’s age over for dinner. Once everyone arrived, we all went into the room where the kids were playing. But guess what, we dads saw our kids playing together with the cardboard blocks!
Well, as good fathers, we had to participate. Didn’t we?
While preparing this message, I remembered that when he was younger, my son would play with big cardboard blocks. And, once he built something, he’d often knock it down and start over, and over, and over.
When you’re two, play is not about being the biggest, nor the best, nor any other measure of success or superiority. It’s about playing, about imagination, about stacking blocks. It was also about playing with someone. Blocks were a favorite pastime with Mommy and Daddy, Grandparents, and friends.
Playing with someone was fun. Our participation – being with him in his play – was the point. There was no goal, no purpose other than enjoy playing … together. It was about relationship.
A number of people I know (and love), as well as several folks who have commented either on my blog or my Facebook page, have recently said something to the effect of “You know I’m not racist, but…”
Let’s stop right there and think about this.
On the positive side, yes: I am certain all of these people view themselves as not racist, and try hard to not act toward people of color (or think of them) in ways that are racist or uncaring. This is a good thing. (And frankly, if they did otherwise, we wouldn’t be friends! ) But, as with all things, how we define our terms really matters. And so, are we all using the word “Racist” in the same way?
The answer is “No, we’re not.”
Now I could give you a long dissertation as to why I myself am not racist. I certainly have many reasons to consider myself better informed and sensitive to this issue than many of not most of those who share my skin color are.
Unfortunately, the reverse is true: all those years of experience and introspection have taught me that I truly am racist – and here’s why…
Years ago, as a naive but well meaning 30-something, I was walking and talking with a Black woman in her neighborhood, one of the poorest in Tidewater Virginia. When she mentioned some recent problems with crime in the area, I asked why she didn’t call the police. She snorted and said, “They are not our friends” and then went on to explain why.
Her words shocked me, but I also learned something: not all Police see themselves as public servants. Some see themselves as an occupying force: “Us vs. Them.” And, just like in any war zone, that breeds fear and hate. Occupiers are not granted trust or respect.
With my eyes opened to this reality, it is distressing – and angering – to see just how prevalent this is in communities all over the country. I am not at all surprised to see this anger boiling over now, it’s been a long time coming.
…We are not alone, [and] we are called to live that reality out in meaningful ways. We are to bring the Good News to all. No one is alone: no matter who they are, what God they worship, what color their skin is, their politics, the size of their bank account, what language the speak, where they were born, how able their bodies or minds may be, what gender they identify with, and no matter whom they love. God loves us all unconditionally: no prerequisites, no expectations, no limits, and no end.
So, how do we live out the reality of this infinite Love of God when we can’t gather together in the ways that have been essential to the life of our church for so long?
Let us pray… … Lord God, may your peace and Holy Spirit fill us this morning. Open your scriptures to us, and may I clearly communicate what you intend us to receive. May your Word take root and flourish within each and every one of us, and through it may we be strengthened and transformed by your unconditional, living, and limitless love for each and every one of your children. In Jesus Name, Amen.
As I read this morning’s scripture (Acts 2:1-19), I imagine the disciples huddled in that Upper Room. They are no longer afraid, but Jesus’ last command is to remain there, to “shelter in place,” until they receive the promise of the Creator. So they wait, separate from those who resumed their normal lives after the turmoil and death of that first Easter week.
I’m sure they mourned. I’m sure they prayed and planned. They must have wondered about Jesus’ promise and his commission to be witnesses there in Jerusalem, then in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of all the earth. How would this Great Commission be fulfilled? They waited.
And there our church sits. All of us are gone. We’re waiting. Only Pastor Tom is there this morning, all alone. We have quarantined ourselves from our neighbors and friends. But like the disciples, we know we must soon move on to something new.
If the government dictates that we must close down the economy, then it is incumbent upon that same government to ensure that the people – ALL the people – can survive that shutdown, and have a reasonable hope of returning to fruitful and stable lives afterwards.
When I hear and read of these protests to end the COVID-19 Lockdown and re-open the Economy, what I mostly hear is fear: particularly the (well-founded) fear of losing one’s home and livelihood in the current economic shutdown.
I hear a desperate cry to return things back to the way they were, even though that is not possible. I hear the fear of people who do not have the resources they need to survive this plague for an indefinite period of time. I hear the fear of people who are grasping for hope. These protestors are yelling for “Freedom.” To me, it is clear what they mean is “Freedom From Fear”. But, they can only imagine that Freedom on their own terms: not within the context of being a member-of, and dependent upon, the society around them. They believe that Freedom from responsibility to their neighbor is the only way to survive.