Traditional Marriage

marriageWhen I think about the definition many use for the term “Traditional Marriage”, I wonder whether it is right or fair to define all that marriage is based upon what we do with our genitals, and/or who we do it with.

There are many kinds of traditions out there.  But when the term “Traditional Marriage” is used, it is referring to what the speaker sees as a faith tradition.  Yet, as I spoke about in a recent sermon, “Tradition” is not synonymous with “Faith.”  One must be dependent upon the other, but which one is primary: Faith or Tradition?

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The Great Divide

Let us not mince words, as a country we have a starker choice than we’ve ever had before: to choose hate, or to choose love. Which path does our faith call us to pursue?

A year ago today our souls were still filled with the words of President Obama’s Eulogy in Charleston for nine Christians murdered in their own church: in that speech his words were filled with calls for forgiveness, love, tolerance, and social justice.  And then, a year ago today, the Supreme Court passed down a decision that made it legal for everyone in this nation to marry whomever they love.
How have these two great events impacted us now, a year later?
On the one side we have a political party that talks about respect and care and social justice. Now, admittedly, they don’t always live up to the ideals they hold, but the intent is there: a determination to love others as God love us.
On the other hand, we have a political party that talks about alienation, about deportation, building walls, embracing hate for all who are different from them in any way, claiming that the threat of deadly violence against another as the first and best defense against injustice. And, it is clear that the presumptive nominee of that party has no concern for anyone but himself: in his mind, people are tools to be used, not creatures of God to be loved as God loves us.
Let us not mince words, as a country we have a starker choice than we’ve ever had before: to choose hate, or to choose love.

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Blame

You know – with regards to the recent massacre in Orlando, we are sliding back into the same old same old set of accusations and counter-accusations we see every time: “Who’s fault is it?”

Is it the Muslims?

The Gays?

Bigots?

Obama?

The GOP?

The NRA? (Well …)

Trump?

Blaming is an old game: based on the idea that we must have winners and losers. And yet, nobody ever wins.

How long must we keep up this mindless charade?

And then we have the next layer of this old game, that of hitching one’s own cause (and/or -ism) to the issue…

Gun Control

Lifting the ban on allowing Gays to donate blood

Immigration

Racism

All of these causes are important and worthwhile, and many of them do intersect with what happened in Orlando this past weekend.  But, by linking a cause dear to us with the terror in Orlando, are we obscuring what happened?  …Obscuring what happened by insisting the event be viewed only through a lens of our choosing?

Look: 50 people died, and and another 53 were physically injured.  Uncounted others have lost loved ones, many more will be dealing for the rest of their own lives with the trauma they experienced that night, and others will spend a lifetime caring for those who have been forever scarred by this attack.

And, we see pain erupting from many in the LGBTQ community because of this, and you can understand why: clubs such as Pulse were a refuge from the judgment and pain they experienced in the outside world.  Those refuges are now no longer safe.  LGBTQ people have become a new target of domestic terrorism just when the laws and society here in the U.S. finally seemed to be on the verge of forever setting aside homophobia.  The newly blossoming reality of being able to live their lives unmolested and free from fear has been taken away from them, perhaps forever.  For an LGBTQ person, this attack was very personal, and very scary: a very real threat to their very existence, carried out against them purely because of who they are.  I can’t imagine feeling like I’m living with a target painted on my back, but I’m sure many in the LGBTQ community feel exactly that way right now.

50 people have died.  Hundreds if not thousands more will never escape the pain and fear planted within their souls that night.

Let’s focus on that.

As a Christian, I see the Bible, particularly Jesus own teachings in the Gospels, as making it very, very, clear that we must take responsibility for our own actions and attitudes, and not seek to escape such responsibility.  Laying blame on others is exactly that: an attempt to say “it’s somebody else’s problem, not mine.”

So, instead of trying to figure out who to blame, ask instead “What have I not done that I should be doing, to keep such things from happening?”  Because, our own attitudes and prejudices and fears definitely played a part – however small – in causing this to happen.

And, instead of hitching one’s own cause to the pain of others, respect the pain and loss that has occurred.  Embrace those who have lost loved ones.  Walk at the side of those who cannot stop the pain of this trauma from leaking out of their souls.  We cannot directly feel their pain, nor can we (nor should we) try to minimize it.  Instead, we must allow them to work through their pain – and be there for them when they need help, or need someone to listen to what they have to say.

Jesus’  taught that we must love God without limit, and love one another in the same way.

The world can be a cruel, hard place.  Bad things will happen.  As Christians, we are called not to judge, but to heal.  So in the end, ask how you can help bring healing.  Ask how you must change in response to what has happened.

Love is the answer, not blame.

Amen.

 

The Sadness and Love of Valentines Day

…I ask that you share not just the joys of romantic love, but the sadness that is within all of us, show your love by reaching out to them, helping to share the burden that they carry hidden in their heart, even if only for a little while; because, walking with another through their sadness and hard times is central to what our faith is all about.

tumblr_m4r98e7tDL1r0ou82o1_500On this Valentines Day and the First Sunday of Lent, I ask that we remember not only the importance of Romantic Love; but of Divine Love, the Love of a friend or sibling, LovingKindness, Self Love, and the many other kinds of love out there.
There are many out there who celebrate and remember the romantic aspects of Valentines Day – of marriage proposals and weddings, of building family. But, there are many, many people for whom this day carries a tinge of sadness, such as…

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Keeping the Christ in Christianity

Those who seek to minimize the Christ in their Christianity do so out of a conviction that we must not offend, and must not intimidate (through “churchy” language and ritual) those who are looking for a touch of the divine in their lives. This is a worthy impulse, but we must be careful to not allow such thinking to seduce us into creating a faith for ourselves that is inoperative and unchallenging.

NotCrossRev. Heath is absolutely right in her recent article in Christian Century entitled “On Throwing the Baby Jesus Out with the Bath Water”: we need to keep the “Christ” in our Christianity.

In my view, the tradition that has been passed down to us, combined with the teachings and example of Christ and others as found in the New Testament and elsewhere, forms a foundation or framework for our faith: denying, minimizing, or casting aside that framework really would leave our faith “rootless” as many Evangelicals often (erroneously) label we who are Progressive Christians.

Christianity is not about supplying all the answers or enforcing a rigid set of doctrines and laws to live by. Jesus preached against exactly that sort of thinking and practice in the First Century, and it doesn’t work any better now than it did then. (And, frankly, doing so has never worked well.)

On the other hand, our faith isn’t just about making us feel good about who and where we are at the moment, either: Yes, we are to love and accept ourselves and each other as we are right now, but we are called to continually seek to do better, not simply accept what is.

Keeping Christ in our faith is challenging, and should always be so: if our faith is not challenged, if it is not continually being refined in the tension of this place we exist that lies between what was and what is to come, then our faith would be fruitless and meaningless. It would simply be a rationale for accepting things as they are, rather than challenging us to become better: to become more just, more thoughtful, and more compassionate.

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Sermon: Covenant

A Covenant is not about rules but about relationship, to ensure that the relationship between the parties will be strong and will prosper over time. Any rules or guidelines in the covenant are to provide guidance on how to ensure this happens, and to protect the interests of both parties. But, if the situation changes (and it always does – as change is the only constant in this world) then, in the interest of preserving the relationship, it is understood that the rules will eventually need to be negotiated – and a new (or revised) Covenant agreed-upon.

This is (with some edits to include important points made in the audio) the draft version of the sermon I gave this past Sunday, when we joined together to “Re-Covenant” our ministries for the start of our Congregation’s “Program Year.”   I gave the actual sermon without reference to this draft (for the most part) – and, frankly doing so made for a message that was far better and more relevant than you will read here.  (That one should listen when the Holy Spirit stirs within you is a lesson I learned long ago.)

If you wish to hear the sermon as given, the audio can be found at the bottom of this page.  (I may someday update the draft to match the audio – in my copious spare time!)


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Please join me in prayer…

Lord God, we lift up this morning’s lessons.  May they touch our hearts, and speak clearly to our souls, that we may come to more fully comprehend your eternal and undying love for us and for all of your Creation. Amen.

The year is 622 BCE.

Zoroaster, founder of the great Zoroastrian faith is a young boy in Persia. Lao Tse – founder of Taoism, and Confucius, and Buddha, all would be born within the next few years. Classical Greek Culture was just beginning its rise to dominance, and Rome was a small city under Etruscan domination.

In Israel young Josiah has been King of Judah for about 18 years. And, for the first time in generations, his Kingdom is not threatened by external aggression or domination. The Assyrian Empire that his Kingdom had long paid tribute to, and which had destroyed Samaria in Northern Israel just a century earlier, was disintegrating. Egypt was also recovering from Assyria’s domination, and Babylon had not yet laid claim to Assyria’s place as the dominant power in that part of the ancient world.

Josiah about 26 years old, and possibly exploiting the opportunities that arose from his Kingdom’s newfound independence, the Bible tells us he directed Hilkiah, the High Priest, to use Tax Money to renovate the long neglected Temple of Yahweh.

And Lo and Behold! As the renovation of the Temple began, Hikiah found a scroll hidden among the stones.

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#BlackLivesMatter and The Legacy of Slavery

Much of what the “Black Lives Matter” movement is doing makes us uncomfortable, particularly those of us who are white. This is as it should be. If we’re comfortable where we are “at”, we won’t move, we won’t improve, we won’t change. If the injustices that exist are to be righted, we must be made uncomfortable. We must be made to see those things which are invisible to us because they’ve “always been that way” – working well for us, and so we ignore them or are unaware that they operate in our favor: that’s the very definition of “structural racism.” Yet, these same structural prejudices that are so deeply intertwined within our society and legal system do not work so favorably for others.

The first slaves arrive in Massachusetts on board the Desire, December 12, 1638.
The first slaves arrive in Massachusetts on board the Desire, December 12, 1638.

We often forget that slavery was everywhere in the US until the early 1800’s, and it was no prettier in Massachusetts, New York, or New Hampshire than it was in Texas, Delaware, or Virginia.

Some of the best known Blacks in U.S. History – such as Sojourner Truth, William Still, and Lucy Terry Prince – were born into slavery in the North, or were transported here as slaves from Africa.  Many of our most famous native sons here in New England (such as John Winthrop, founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony) sanctioned slavery.  Many of the wealthiest families of New England and New York in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries built their fortunes upon the slave trade.  And, we forget that slavery was very much present in places like Massachusetts for over 150 years.  In fact, with the sole exception of Vermont, slavery was not abolished in any Northern State until after the American Revolution, and was not fully abolished from all Northern States until 1865.

Another aspect of oppressive systems, such as slavery – and like any institution or behavior deeply embedded in any society or organization – is that its effects persist long after people even remember that it was there. You see this in how some churches keep on “chewing up” new Ministers, in how corruption keeps on toppling one political figure after another in certain communities, or in why we here in America drive on the right hand side of the road, or why we set the table with the fork on the left.

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Be Holy

Focal text: Leviticus 19

UnknownA close friend of mine once lived in a town that was rapidly becoming a mecca for the affluent in his part of the country, ignoring it’s heritage as a community that put significant effort into ministering to those in need.

One afternoon, my friend was crossing the street in a marked crosswalk at a stoplight, when a well-dressed man in his brand new white Cadillac SUV zoomed through the red light as he made a right hand turn.  As this driver did so, he hit my friend with his vehicle, knocking him to the ground and leaving him dazed.  At that point, the driver stopped, rolled down his window, cussed my friend out for getting in the way, then roared off.  (Unfortunately, the driver got away with it; as at that moment my friend was in no condition to read, let alone remember, a license plate number.)

We could say a lot about the injustice of this, highlighting how those with power and position are often arrogant and self-serving, thinking their position and wealth grants them special privileges and consideration; and then contrasting that with the situation of my friend, a man of great talent and a good heart, but who lives on the margins of our economy.

But let’s not go there today; there’s enough of that floating around.  Instead, we’ll focus on how this situation is illuminated by the text from Leviticus 19 that is part of the lectionary readings for this coming Sunday.

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