Cat People – Sermon for Sept. 8, 2019 – Luke 15.25-33

Text –

25Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus;] and he turned and said to them, 26“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

SERMON

Some say there are two types of people. Well, I’ll tell you what.  I bet that by just looking at you, I can tell what kind of person you are.  Now, I know many of us know each other, and some better than others, but let’s give this a try.

going and standing in front of several (including “dog people”) point and say “cat people, cat people, cat people”.

Now of course, before some of you start to argue with me. My determination has nothing to do with your pets; it has nothing to do with even liking cats, or whether you have had or own a cat.  I actually prefer dogs, but I have a cat. Or to put it more accurately from the feline cat perspective, I am allowed to to be my Dilly cat’s kitty chef, kitty sewage engineer, even occasionally Dilly’s kitty masseuse, in other words, I’m allowed to live with that cat.Did you how I said that? If you know anything at all about cats is that they have their own anthem, the song of their people is, “You don’t own me.  — so don’t tell me what to do, and don’t tell me what to say, cuz you own me.”

And that’s why I actually think there’s only one kind of people, cat people. Because, history, time and time again, we’ve seen that like cats people don’t want to be owned.  I know, I  want to be able to do, and go, and think and say what we want. We are the captains of own ships, molders of our own identities, proud, free individuals, you know — cats.

But that’s not what we hear in our scriptures for today.  That is not the good news according to Jesus. Oh, you might not have heard it, after all, we like to stick with our own definition of good news. You know that part about God calling us by name, knowing us inside and out, the God who will stick with us through thick and thin, even when we get over our heads in deep water. We progressive christians really like the idea of an intimate spiritual connection.  And that’s certainly there, but so are words like “I have claimed you; you are mine.”  Let that sink in a moment.  Sit with that.

You know in ancient times, knowing someone’s name gave you some sort of power, control, claim over them.  So when Moses is standing there before the burning bush, Moses asks God “who shall I say sent me”. Moses wants the name of this God sending him to face not only face down pharaoh, but also lead his friends, family, and people out of Egypt.  God’s answer is YHWH — which isn’t a name at all but more like a phrase—“I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be”.  You see, Moses wants some authority, some power, and God’s not gonna give it to him. The exodus isn’t really about liberation and freedom, it’s really about just switching masters—pharaoh king of Egypt to God the king of creation. 

Now if you are anything like me, that doesn’t actually sit well with me.  I don’t like the idea of that one bit. I want to be able to sing “You don’t own me”.

But the thing is .  For God to be god, God better be more than just an idea—even a really really good one. 

You know, Jesus doesn’t say, “Hey guys, i go this cool about God”. No he says follow me, and oh BTW – a lot of people, I mean an awful lot, are not gonna think this is a good idea at all, because following me is not going to be easy; it’s gonna cost you.  No if you are gonna follow me, and well that’s what the church is—it’s the disciples/followers of Jesus, you are saying—ok God, you own me.  I’m gonna love who you say I should (even though I really really don’t want to—you know my enemies). 

Following Jesus, not just hearing God call us by name (you know kind of how cat’s do, they almost acknowledge your presences), following Jesus is actually listening and doing and that means giving up, oftentimes the ideas we have — ideas about ourselves and a lot of times ideas about God.

God, faith, church, whatever isn’t just a list of nice things, or even nice people, to do cool things with, like some of us were able to do—go on a sweet boat. 

Being the church isn’t even about talking about God, for God to be God who is real, who isn’t just a metaphor, an idea, or an ideal—isn’t just a way to pick up some pointers to make our lives easier or smoother. 

No if we are the church, we hear God call us by name, and we listen when God says, it’s gonna cost (and I’m not just talking money or time, but also life, and idea of life) and  we really listen when God says you know some of those things you hold real dear to you — there’s a piece of wood, a tree, why don’t you use your pretty little people claws climb up that wood, and hang that stuff up there—there’s probably some nails lying around.

Now let me tell you, this is a sermon that’s harder for me to hear than for me to give.  I like all my nice thoughts about God, all my nice God talk that fits my particular sensibilities, you know that fit into my peculiar feline brain, but if there’s something bigger or more than me out there—I’m gotta even give up my comfy God talk, my insistence that you don’t own me, and I’ve got to not only listen.  We’ve got to listen when our name is called, and we’ve got to wrap our heads, our hearts, our lives, something other than our own ego scratching poles, because it’s not just about our name, God’s got our number—God’s got a claim on us.  Amen.

Social Distance

Sermonette from March 15, 2020

“More than Meets the Eye” – sermon for Transfiguration 2020

What I see

I want to make sense to me.

a tree, it may be small or tall, with leaves or none at all, but it is still had better be a tree.

That is its name, its label, its category. I want it to make sense to me, all that I see.

But don’t think this penchant, this passion, this patterning is limited to flora and fauna. Our minds, our culture, systematizes categorizes, into either this-es or that’s-es. Boy or girl,  pink or blue, rich or poor, republican/ democrat, urban / rural, good / bad. Life is easier when it’s all black or white. When what we/I/we see, makes sense to me.

It may be simpler, faster, easier, but it’s not any truer.

Oh, we like to think this is a modern or post-modern politically correct invention the most current and faddish challenge to convention. 

But since in the beginning, God’s had something to say about all that. A tree is not always just a tree. It can be a thing of beauty in the garden, or a -temptation—a temptation to climb and consume for growth and development, a tree is also danger and death, the forbidden fruit.

There’s always more than meets the eye. As it was in the beginning—even if we didn’t know it or acknowledge it—even if we didn’t want to see it—it was there. There’s always more than meets the ey.

Just like today—in our scripture.  We call today transfiguration. This story of Jesus up on the mountain top, as he is changed, transformed, with diving shining on and from forth from him— like thousands of sequins, and glitters, all dazzling and glorious.  

While in our story, this transformation suddenly appears. It’s not like Jesus didn’t have it in, with, and under his skin all along. The divine co-mingled with the mundane. And this isn’t the first time, a voice booms out announcing, “This is my Beloved”. 

This isn’t for many of us, and it isn’t in the gospels, something we couldn’t have seen coming. Jesus has been all around saying things like —the kingdom of God; the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  It’s here.  Heaven, God’s reign, rule, reality. Not up in some other space or dimension.  But here. In a pharisee’s house, on a boat with guys fishing, with women disciples, with the sick and bleeding.

Jesus has been telling us, there’s more than meets the eye. You are not just the pain and trauma you’ve experienced.  You are not just what the world labels you. You are beloved too.  You are part and parcel of God’s kingdom, reign, rule, and reality. You are both and. 

Now, of course we know the LGBT+ community and people, are not just a bunch of sinners headed towards hell (as so many Christians have and do still preach). But they like other people pushed and categorized as marginalized are not just people we say we stick up for or stand up for.  But they are also our teachers, wise, and aware people we can learn from them as they welcome gender fluidity.  Through and from them we are learning there isn’t just boy or girl, pink or blue but a whole rainbow of glorious colors there’s not just gay or straight but a whole array queer- of love that isn’t just this or that or this and definitely not that. It should be no surprise that for some LGBT+ Christians this gospel story is particularly powerful and meaningful. As it celebrates holy multi-dimensionality. Jesus in himself being both, this and that—human and divine-not confinable to one category.

And, as I mentioned earlier, this is nothing new.  Especially for any of us who just might have been born and bread Lutherans—who might have heard the language of now and not yet, words like sinner and saint, in with and under.  Because every Sunday as we come to this table, we see bread and juice, but it is also way more than that. For at this table—in with and under the bread is the body, a body of love and sacrifice, a body of corporal and corporeal compassion, community of communion. In this holy space and in this time, God’s potent spirit moves us out of simple binary—this or that, to holy ambiguity and mystery and unbounded beauty as we not only listen to God’s beloved son, but touch and feel, taste and see, and not just in bread and cup, but in blood, bone, and body of one another we see the more than meets the eye. Amen.

DON’T BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF PRAYER. SERMON ON LUKE 11.1-13

July 28, 2019 

***warning, this is written as an oral piece–do not correct my grammar–also what I write isn’t always exactly what gets preached.

I don’t believe in the power of prayer. 

Now, before you get out, our modern day pitchforks and torches, your cell phones, and make that call to Bishop Erickson, hear me out.

No, I do not believe that the family that prays together, stays together.

No, I do not believe in prayer in school, if that it is organized, sanctioned or led by—teacher, principle, coach.

No, I don’t believe that the whispered prayers, the hand gestures, the winks, nods, and signs-of-the cross cause God to give touchdowns, homeruns, or holes in one.

I do not believe that the words of any prayer can actually do or change anything.

Prayer is not magic. Prayer is not some super-natural combination of jus the right consonants and syllables with any power. No, even the Lord’s prayer, words given by Jesus himself do not have the power to stop a bullet, kill cancer cells, or change politicians’ minds.

But as it says, not in the appointed 2nd lesson, but a different letter from Paul to the early church: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. 

16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

I hope, that by this point in my little rant (I mean sermon) that the point is that the power of prayer is not in the words we say. In fact, studies show prayer can actually change the functioning and structure of the brain—that is if you pray for thousands of hours. However, it doesn’t matter—the same neuropathways change whether it is Roman Catholic nuns and monks who devote hours each day in prayer —reciting the rosary and the Lord’s Prayer— or if you are a Buddhist monk who meditates in another chant or in silence.  This is one of the few times I’ll actually say this—the words don’t matter; the words aren’t magic.

Which BTW leads me to today’s, some would say, tangent.

I hope you noticed that the words we read from Luke’s gospel do not match those fo the traditional (and that of course depends on whether you learned any of the several traditional Lord’s Prayers.

Now to make sure that you haven’t check out of this sermon yet, what are the differences between what we read just a few moments ago, and traditional Lord’s prayers:

  1. no “our” or as in my PA Dutch accent — “r”  —- in Matthew’s 
  2. no “in heaven”
  3. no arts, this — those are hold overs from the King Jame’s langauge
  4. no your will be done on earth as in heaven  — again Matthew
  5. we have sins, debts  — no trespasses – both have that debt (and it really does have the economic connotation. humm wonder why we just talk about “sins”
  6. the doxolgy is not at the end

I haven’t mentioned the 2 other sources about Jesus, Mark and John’s gospel, because this “Lord’s Prayer” thing isn’t in either of those gospels.

So, if you ever wondered, when you first came to Village why does Village so seldom say the traditional Lord’s Prayer, and often uses alternate versions.  It’s because, really, there is no THE Lord’s Prayer—even the word used for Father is different— the nice Abba (that some people use—the Abba prayer) is in Matthew — Luke’s word is Pater.

In other words— prayers (even the Lord’s prayer) has other words— yes, yes, the same meaning we could kind of argue (as long as we take money out of debts). but different words.  And that takes us back to my point.  The power of prayer isn’t in the words used but the intention and the use. And, you may have hopefully/perchance picked up on one of the key, most important aspects of prayer —that it’s consistently not about me.

In the first lesson we actually se/hear Abraham trying to lie out God’s promise to be a blessing as he is bargaining, pleading, praying for the people of Sodom and Gohmoorah,  which and this is not just a random unimportant tangent— the sin was not homosexuality — according to Ezekiel 16: 

49This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 

It is greed.  But they didn’t just tweet or have rally’s against strangers and foreigners—they perpetrated their greed through rape—and that is not the same thing as being LGBT+. 

 Words aren’t magic, but they are important.

The power of words is that they lead to action. Thoughts and prayers better lead to action. As you read the gospels, you’ll see that Jesus spends at least just as much time talking about doing, living, loving —acting a disciple than praying about it.  Just look at the parable Jesus adds in to the words — of course we’ve always interpreted it at being bold and persistent in prayer— but when the man needs food for his guest (notice again — it’s not for himself, but for a traveler), he doesn’t drop to his knees in prayer.  He gets up and goes to his neighbor (remember this isn’t the world where there’s not a walgreens on every corner). The man goes to the place where he can get the bread— his neighbor. His words, his actions, his life is his prayer.

The kind of prayer that we do, and I’d like to share with you another story. A story of “liturgical direct action”  —- this is from Sojourners —  listen to the words of Rose Marie Berger: she writes: 

I spent five hours as a guest of the U.S. Capitol Police last week. It was hot, really hot. And those plastic handcuffs leave bruises.

I was one of 71 Catholics arrested by the U.S. Capitol Police in the rotunda of the Russell Senate building in Washington, D.C., for “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding” while praying the rosary. My prayer was — and is — to end the warehousing of immigrant children in cages ….

More than a dozen Catholic orders and organizations sponsored the event. Seven Catholic bishops sent letters of support.

We were in the Russell Senate building to pierce the veil of morally isolated political leaders who are caging immigrant children.

We were there because we actually believe in the power of prayer. “The public prayer of Christians,”

For Catholics, the rosary has long been a weapon of choice in wrestling with, correcting, and pushing toward the redemption of the powers and principalities. 

While a few hundred people encircled the Russell rotunda, our “Hail Marys” and “Our Fathers” echoed down the long corridors of Senate offices. We replaced the traditional scripture of the five Sorrowful Mysteries with stories collected by a group of attorneys who interviewed more than 60 minors at U.S. Border Patrol facilities in El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley in June.

Certain lines from those prayers took on new meanings, such as “blessed is the fruit of thy womb” and “pray for us sinners” and “deliver us from evil.” I held the photo of Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old girl from Guatemala who died of a bacterial infection after U.S. Customs and Border Protection took her into custody.

When the U.S. Capitol Police issued three warnings for us to disperse, most of those gathered stepped back behind the police line, but five stepped forward and laid down in the shape of a cross in the center of the rotunda. A cross of human bodies. Dozens more formed a eucharistic circle around this cross.

Our law-breaking band of Catholic lay people, sisters, and priests was not alone in our liturgical direct action. Earlier in the week, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 85, and nine others were arrested blocking the entrance to Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Washington, D.C., as part of a national movement in the Jewish community to shut down immigrant detention camps, particularly those holding minors.

“Pharaoh’s attack on children points toward a repeated tactic of tyrants who have planned genocide: Attack the children first,” said Rabbi Waskow. Jewish communities are taking action at ICE offices around the country, declaring “Never again means now.”

On the same day, the Trump administration issued a new policy banning people from seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. According to the text of this irregular rule, individuals entering the United States across the southern border will be regarded as ineligible for asylum if they passed through another country first and did not attempt to seek asylum there.

Simultaneous with the arrests in the Russell building on Thursday, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) gave a moving testimony from the floor of the Senate reflecting on the prophet Amos, the Good Samaritan in the context of the continuous threat of massive ICE raids across the country.

To promote the Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act, Kaine said, “[The bill] puts us in a position where as we are being directed to be good neighbors, including to people who are hurting, including to people who are suffering, we would be able to look ourselves in the mirror and look the world in the eye and say the United States believes that we are good neighbors and we are behaving in a neighborly way toward people.”

Police vans and holding areas are never comfortable. They are often humiliating and sometimes dangerous. But for Christians, studying the Bible in lock-up is a tradition formed in the early church. For the Catholic Day of Action, I chose a scripture verse from Lamentations to meditate on: “Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches; Pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord: Lift up your hands toward him for the life of your young children, that faint for hunger at the head of every street” (2:19).

We sat for five hours, handcuffed, on metal folding chairs in the noisy Capitol Police’s open garage bay. With us was a 90-year-old Mercy sister and an 85-year-old Franciscan priest, and the sweat rolled off us like “water before the face of the Lord.” We were processed. We were fingerprinted. And I have a wristband with the name of my arresting officer tucked into my Bible.

Last week, I spent five hours as a guest of the Capitol Police. Detained migrant children are spending five weeks or five months in Border Patrol camps. 

May our prayers, may our words, may our silence, may what we do, say and pray be liturgical direct action in our worlds and unleashing our lives to be powerful unceasing prayers to God.  Amen.

Don’t believe in the power of prayer. Sermon on Luke 11.1-13

July 28, 2019 

***warning, this is written as an oral piece–do not correct my grammar–also what I write isn’t always exactly what gets preached.

I don’t believe in the power of prayer. 

Now, before you get out, our modern day pitchforks and torches, your cell phones, and make that call to Bishop Erickson, hear me out.

No, I do not believe that the family that prays together, stays together.

No, I do not believe in prayer in school, if that it is organized, sanctioned or led by—teacher, principle, coach.

No, I don’t believe that the whispered prayers, the hand gestures, the winks, nods, and signs-of-the cross cause God to give touchdowns, homeruns, or holes in one.

I do not believe that the words of any prayer can actually do or change anything.

Prayer is not magic. Prayer is not some super-natural combination of jus the right consonants and syllables with any power. No, even the Lord’s prayer, words given by Jesus himself do not have the power to stop a bullet, kill cancer cells, or change politicians’ minds.

But as it says, not in the appointed 2nd lesson, but a different letter from Paul to the early church: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. 

16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

I hope, that by this point in my little rant (I mean sermon) that the point is that the power of prayer is not in the words we say. In fact, studies show prayer can actually change the functioning and structure of the brain—that is if you pray for thousands of hours. However, it doesn’t matter—the same neuropathways change whether it is Roman Catholic nuns and monks who devote hours each day in prayer —reciting the rosary and the Lord’s Prayer— or if you are a Buddhist monk who meditates in another chant or in silence.  This is one of the few times I’ll actually say this—the words don’t matter; the words aren’t magic.

Which BTW leads me to today’s, some would say, tangent.

I hope you noticed that the words we read from Luke’s gospel do not match those fo the traditional (and that of course depends on whether you learned any of the several traditional Lord’s Prayers.

Now to make sure that you haven’t check out of this sermon yet, what are the differences between what we read just a few moments ago, and traditional Lord’s prayers:

  1. no “our” or as in my PA Dutch accent — “r”  —- in Matthew’s 
  2. no “in heaven”
  3. no arts, this — those are hold overs from the King Jame’s langauge
  4. no your will be done on earth as in heaven  — again Matthew
  5. we have sins, debts  — no trespasses – both have that debt (and it really does have the economic connotation. humm wonder why we just talk about “sins”
  6. the doxolgy is not at the end

I haven’t mentioned the 2 other sources about Jesus, Mark and John’s gospel, because this “Lord’s Prayer” thing isn’t in either of those gospels.

So, if you ever wondered, when you first came to Village why does Village so seldom say the traditional Lord’s Prayer, and often uses alternate versions.  It’s because, really, there is no THE Lord’s Prayer—even the word used for Father is different— the nice Abba (that some people use—the Abba prayer) is in Matthew — Luke’s word is Pater.

In other words— prayers (even the Lord’s prayer) has other words— yes, yes, the same meaning we could kind of argue (as long as we take money out of debts). but different words.  And that takes us back to my point.  The power of prayer isn’t in the words used but the intention and the use. And, you may have hopefully/perchance picked up on one of the key, most important aspects of prayer —that it’s consistently not about me.

In the first lesson we actually se/hear Abraham trying to lie out God’s promise to be a blessing as he is bargaining, pleading, praying for the people of Sodom and Gohmoorah,  which and this is not just a random unimportant tangent— the sin was not homosexuality — according to Ezekiel 16: 

49This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 

It is greed.  But they didn’t just tweet or have rally’s against strangers and foreigners—they perpetrated their greed through rape—and that is not the same thing as being LGBT+. 

 Words aren’t magic, but they are important.

The power of words is that they lead to action. Thoughts and prayers better lead to action. As you read the gospels, you’ll see that Jesus spends at least just as much time talking about doing, living, loving —acting a disciple than praying about it.  Just look at the parable Jesus adds in to the words — of course we’ve always interpreted it at being bold and persistent in prayer— but when the man needs food for his guest (notice again — it’s not for himself, but for a traveler), he doesn’t drop to his knees in prayer.  He gets up and goes to his neighbor (remember this isn’t the world where there’s not a walgreens on every corner). The man goes to the place where he can get the bread— his neighbor. His words, his actions, his life is his prayer.

The kind of prayer that we do, and I’d like to share with you another story. A story of “liturgical direct action”  —- this is from Sojourners —  listen to the words of Rose Marie Berger: she writes: 

I spent five hours as a guest of the U.S. Capitol Police last week. It was hot, really hot. And those plastic handcuffs leave bruises.

I was one of 71 Catholics arrested by the U.S. Capitol Police in the rotunda of the Russell Senate building in Washington, D.C., for “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding” while praying the rosary. My prayer was — and is — to end the warehousing of immigrant children in cages ….

More than a dozen Catholic orders and organizations sponsored the event. Seven Catholic bishops sent letters of support.

We were in the Russell Senate building to pierce the veil of morally isolated political leaders who are caging immigrant children.

We were there because we actually believe in the power of prayer. “The public prayer of Christians,”

For Catholics, the rosary has long been a weapon of choice in wrestling with, correcting, and pushing toward the redemption of the powers and principalities. 

While a few hundred people encircled the Russell rotunda, our “Hail Marys” and “Our Fathers” echoed down the long corridors of Senate offices. We replaced the traditional scripture of the five Sorrowful Mysteries with stories collected by a group of attorneys who interviewed more than 60 minors at U.S. Border Patrol facilities in El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley in June.

Certain lines from those prayers took on new meanings, such as “blessed is the fruit of thy womb” and “pray for us sinners” and “deliver us from evil.” I held the photo of Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old girl from Guatemala who died of a bacterial infection after U.S. Customs and Border Protection took her into custody.

When the U.S. Capitol Police issued three warnings for us to disperse, most of those gathered stepped back behind the police line, but five stepped forward and laid down in the shape of a cross in the center of the rotunda. A cross of human bodies. Dozens more formed a eucharistic circle around this cross.

Our law-breaking band of Catholic lay people, sisters, and priests was not alone in our liturgical direct action. Earlier in the week, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 85, and nine others were arrested blocking the entrance to Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Washington, D.C., as part of a national movement in the Jewish community to shut down immigrant detention camps, particularly those holding minors.

“Pharaoh’s attack on children points toward a repeated tactic of tyrants who have planned genocide: Attack the children first,” said Rabbi Waskow. Jewish communities are taking action at ICE offices around the country, declaring “Never again means now.”

On the same day, the Trump administration issued a new policy banning people from seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. According to the text of this irregular rule, individuals entering the United States across the southern border will be regarded as ineligible for asylum if they passed through another country first and did not attempt to seek asylum there.

Simultaneous with the arrests in the Russell building on Thursday, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) gave a moving testimony from the floor of the Senate reflecting on the prophet Amos, the Good Samaritan in the context of the continuous threat of massive ICE raids across the country.

To promote the Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act, Kaine said, “[The bill] puts us in a position where as we are being directed to be good neighbors, including to people who are hurting, including to people who are suffering, we would be able to look ourselves in the mirror and look the world in the eye and say the United States believes that we are good neighbors and we are behaving in a neighborly way toward people.”

Police vans and holding areas are never comfortable. They are often humiliating and sometimes dangerous. But for Christians, studying the Bible in lock-up is a tradition formed in the early church. For the Catholic Day of Action, I chose a scripture verse from Lamentations to meditate on: “Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches; Pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord: Lift up your hands toward him for the life of your young children, that faint for hunger at the head of every street” (2:19).

We sat for five hours, handcuffed, on metal folding chairs in the noisy Capitol Police’s open garage bay. With us was a 90-year-old Mercy sister and an 85-year-old Franciscan priest, and the sweat rolled off us like “water before the face of the Lord.” We were processed. We were fingerprinted. And I have a wristband with the name of my arresting officer tucked into my Bible.

Last week, I spent five hours as a guest of the Capitol Police. Detained migrant children are spending five weeks or five months in Border Patrol camps. 

May our prayers, may our words, may our silence, may what we do, say and pray be liturgical direct action in our worlds and unleashing our lives to be powerful unceasing prayers to God.  Amen.

Consequences — not just for John Wick, sermon for June 2, 2019

Preaching text:

Acts 16:16-34

16One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” 18She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
19But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” 22The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

SERMON

Consequences. It all seemed to be going so well, maybe too well. We might not say successful, because you know—that’s a bit boastful, but things were headed in the right direction, doing the right things. I don’t know about you, but for a time there didn’t it look like we were progressing? At one point in our country church seemed on the surface at least easier.  Even for Village with our  “we’re not that kind of church”.  You know at one point, maybe it was because we were all of us younger (you know that’s how time works). Back in the day, we had more energy, more friends, more hopes. There was election of the first African American president, marriage equality, and at least for some a sense of prosperity and security. Things weren’t perfect, by no means, but weren’t we progressing.

Paul and his companions might have felt that same way. Earlier in this chapter, the Acts of the Apostles were generally positive. There was clarity in the mission—non-Jews could become part of the church, and as Paul and his companions went from town to town, (as it says in verse 5) “the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.” Reaching the city of Philippi, last week some of us heard the story of Paul and his companions walking to a place of prayer by the river and finding Lydia—a successful businesswoman, who listened welcomed them, and joined the church. It seemed they were headed in the right direction, so they kept going back, as our reading tells us — returning again and again to “the place of prayer”.

But then the other shoe dropped. Now we can’t blame all of our country’s woes on one man our current president, but it appears he has galvanized all the undercurrents of nationalism, racism, sexism, homo/transphobia, anti-intellectualism—generally sanctifying mean-spiritedness.

Of course, this is nothing new. Even in the church. Paul and his companions, probably feeling some sense of satisfaction, as I noted earlier stayed in Philippi, and kept going back to that same place of prayer. Hoping to, get and grow, to share the good news, with others friendly and by now familiar ladies like Lydia, but another spirit was a-foot. 

Instead of successful business men or women like the ones who buy condos or work in offices all around us (you know the type who can keep moving the church in the right direction) Paul and the gang are confronted by a young woman—a slave, who doesn’t have the common decency to just go about her duty, quietly, serving. No, when she sees Paul and the other members, she has a message, speaks she shouts, she screams—these are “slaves of the most high, showing the way of, messaging salvation, healing”. 

You know, I used to kind of like perhaps Paul, think her words were simply from the demon that controlled her.  In Greek the words are pneuma pythonos.  She had a spirit —of divining— she had a spirit of knowing, which was being used by her masters, controled, exploited.  But what if in this instance she was using the gift of this spirit of knowing good and evil—and she wasn’t taunting Paul, instead with whatever power she had, opening her mouth using this pneuma pyhonos, calling out to him. Trying to connect—she’s a slave, he’s a slave, but he’s bound not to human bozos with weapons, but to the most high God of Freedom.

You know, I hate to admit it, but we don’t (especially in the church always do the right thing for the right reason). But Paul misses it. He doesn’t hear her cries for freedom. He’s not interested in this loud-mouthed, low-life.  Paul is captive to the ideal convert. And so after several days, Paul is so fed up, so tired, so bothered, and as our translation states “annoyed” —Paul  basically lashes out and sends the spirit packing.  Paul is not free from his own mean-spirit, none-the-less the next time the slave girl opens her mouth and the spirit is literally exhaled from her.

Consequences, as the latest John Wick movie reminds us, there’s always consequences.

Consequences, it has to be said, she may be freed of this spirit, but she’s still a slave to masters who want to use her to make money. For the young enslaved woman, we don’t know what the consequences of Paul’s mal-intentioned healing, she like so many name-less and perhaps unimportant to the established tradition just disappears as Paul’s story continues.

For Paul and his team the consequences of all this lands them arrested by the authorities, charged with disrupting the system, stripped, beaten, locked up. Now, I don’t know about you, but that kind of consequences just might break my spirit. Of course, that’s what the powers that be want to happen.  Instead, we have to give Paul and company credit—they may not be down by the river at a holy place, they may be surrounded by thieves, drunks, and guards but they bind themselves to their God, even in that place, singing and praying.

According to the writer of Acts, in this instance, it can and it does shake the foundations of this world. They were freed; they could have walked, and run, they could have gotten away to some safe place, but the consequences of the freedom God gives is that we are bound to something else, something more, to the God most High. So as we go about our days, living our lives dealing with our own decisions, our own actions, our struggles, our joys, our pains, the consequences of our own attitudes and actions, take this story with you. When we need to speak up against injustice, against hate—like we have before, like we do, like we must continue—remember the young woman enslaved, but able to channel the energy, the spirit, to speak the truth, to claim kin-ship,  and call liberty, call upon the God most high.

When we go about our days, when you feel your compassion dwindling, anxiety raising, despair bubbling up—and remember Paul, think about what’s really wrong in the world and try to do the right thing. 

And finally, I’d like to share with you something our Bishop Paul said yesterday, at the synod assembly. He said this: “Those who want to save their church will lose it, and those who lose their church for my sake will save it”.  Something might have sounded odd just now.  The bishop replaced the word “life” for “church”. Appearing in all four gospels, hese words of Jesus, “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” tell us we are not ultimately free, we can not escape consequences, so we might as well pray, speak, and act binding ourselves to the God most high.  The God who is beyond death, and is close to us in pain and suffering.  The God who reigns supreme above any court, and whose Spirit agitates and advocates justice, who declares and judges for forgiveness, gives life, whose law is love.  Amen.

These aren’t the THINGS you are looking for. Sermon on John 1:35-51

John 1:35-51

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed ). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter ). 43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.

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I am a grown woman, and I need a chaperone. You notice I did not use the word “ mature”. But still as a 47 year old, I need a chaperone.

Not all the time. Just when I go to certain places—like Michaels, Target, or Cermak.

If you haven’t been to one of the few Cermak’s in Milwaukee, well when I go there I need a chaperone. Sure I take a list. Ok not a paper list, but one in my head. I mean I know what I’m looking for until, I get to the aisles somewhere in the middle of the store. The aisles with packaged international/ethnic food—food from Greece, Russia, Germany, Thailand. Then there’s the frozen foods like papusas from El Salvador and 4 different types of pierogies: and don’t get me started with the fresh foods, the many different cheeses and meats like weisswursts. There’s just so much more there than what I am usually looking for.

So, what are you looking for? Jesus asks this question to a couple of John the Baptist’s disciples, and he’s asking still today: what are we looking for? Some of us know. We may have a list; looking for hope, a moment of peace, it might be just a distraction, for others some real meaning in this crazy world. Maybe it’s forgiveness—a fresh start. We may be looking to be accepted—to be listened to, for care—to care, to make a difference. Some of us may even be looking for a challenge, something to wake us up, shake us up, something to add some spice to our daily diet.

We are all looking for something, truth be told, even if we don’t know what it is. John the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God. The disciples called Jesus Rabbi, messiah. But what do those titles mean? Sure we get a clue from the Bible— rabbi translates as teacher; messiah anointed. What that really means, I can’t tell you. Just as Jesus didn’t stand there and give the disciples a lecture. What did he say? He said “come and see”. We are going to immerse ourselves in John’s picture of Jesus. Just as John’s gospel is one picture of Jesus, Jesus isn’t trapped in the lines of scripture. Jesus still says to us whatever you are looking for, come and see, but remember you may see something you had no idea you were looking for. Jesus is like that. Jesus is the “nice old black lady at McDonald’s.

From an essay by Arno Michaelis. Share his words with you.

Dear nice old black lady at McDonald’s,
I think of you fondly and often, and I talk about you all the time.
You wouldn’t think that a cumulative five minutes of contact at a fast food restaurant over the course of a few weeks could help change the course of a life, and subsequently change the course of countless other lives, but that’s exactly what happened.
Our paths crossed during a time in my life when I radiated hostility, especially towards anyone with a darker complexion than mine.

You demonstrated the courage necessary to respond to my ignorant, fearful aggression with compassion—from behind a cash register at McDonald’s.

I thought I knew all about courage back then. A zeal for violence and the willingness to engage in it at the slightest provocation was my idea of courage. Of course, I thought I knew all about everything. Via an ongoing practice of ignorance, fueled by hate and ego, I had managed to convince myself that white people were superior to everyone else, and that there was a worldwide Jewish conspiracy to wipe us out…

This miserable condition was plainly evident in my appearance. Covered with streetfight scars and homemade tattoos indicative of my angst, steel-toed boots and a shaved head completed the look that said, “I hate you” in no uncertain terms. The many people who crossed the street rather than pass me on the sidewalk were wise to do so. But that first time I walked into the McDonald’s where you worked, I was met with your smile, as warm and unconditional as the sun.
And I shrank in the light of that smile. I was such a pathetic lost soul that a genuine smile made me quite uncomfortable. There I was very diligently trying to hate black people, and there you were making doing so seem as stupid as it is simply by smiling at me.

Having drowned the trauma of your smile in cheap beer and hate-rock over the course of a week, I was taken aback by your warm greeting upon my return, this time amplified with your recognition of me. When you asked me how I had been you might as well have asked me to solve Pi to the millionth digit.
I was bewildered at the prospect of conversation with someone who wasn’t a violent white racist. Once again, I looked down at my boots, mumbled a strained response, and scurried off with my Big Mac as fast as I could.

That weekend I had a swastika tattooed on the middle finger of my right hand…
Willfully ignorant of the wrongness steeped into the swastika during the Holocaust, all I thought of was the cheap thrill of offending people.
But when I walked into McDonald’s for that third payday Big Mac, you took no offense.
Instead you smiled, and asked how was my day, and if I was going to have a Big Mac again, and you remembered that I drank Diet Coke. Thoughtless, I had managed to forget my discomfort with your past kindness. I would have chosen another restaurant for my one meal a week that wasn’t ramen noodles,…

At 6’3” tall, I towered almost a foot above you, but I felt about six inches tall as it dawned on me that I didn’t want you to see the swastika. As the ancient symbol hijacked by hate was needled into my finger the Saturday before, I relished the idea of it being the exclamation point on my ongoing flip-off to the world…

I tried hard to keep my hand behind my back, and awkwardly dug into my front pocket palm-up to fish a $20 fresh from the check-cashing place to pay for my meal. But as the money went from my hand to yours, the swastika was revealed.
The look in your eyes for the split-second they met mine before I shamefully looked away is still clear as day over two decades later. It was the same look my grandma gave me when I used to torment my poor little brother. A look that said, “I love you, but let’s stop this foolishness.”
“What is that on your finger?” you said.
“…it’s nothing.”
I should have said, “I’m nothing,” as that’s how I felt for coming before you with such disrespect.
“You’re a better person than that. I know that’s not who you are.”
Powerless against such compassion, such engagement with the human being I was despite my best efforts, I snatched my food from the counter and my change from your steady hand, and fled from your steady smile and authentic presence, never to return to your McDonald’s again.
It would have been nice if that experience of humanity changed me on the spot, but it didn’t. I went back to my dingy house and got drunk out my mind, blasting white power music with my white power buddies, and slurring some nonsense about Jews taking my money from my paycheck and giving it to lazy black people. We set out on the streets to find someone to beat up. People were beaten that night, and throughout the next seven years, for no reason other than the color of their skin, their assumed homosexuality, their religion, or just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Yet a seed was planted in my heart that day you saw it behind the swastika. A seed hardy enough to take root and sprout in the desolation of fear and ignorance. The seedling grew, attracting like seeds. Together with my family that refused to give up on me, and my daughter who needed me, the kindness of peace warriors like yourself brought love to my life until there was no longer room for hate.
Today I share this ongoing process of learning and growth. Over the past eight years, I have had face-to-face contact with over thirty thousand people, and exponentially more via media worldwide. A nonagenarian black man once told me that I gave him hope. An eleven year-old Latino boy told me he could see how bad I felt for hurting people and that he felt sorry for me. Gay men and Jewish women call me brother. Countless lives were involved leading me to where I am now, and countless people have been inspired to live more compassionately after hearing my story.
A story that couldn’t be quite the same if you weren’t in it.
Thank you.
With love and gratitude,
Arno
Arno Michaelis is a former white supremacist from Milwaukee who now leads the organization Serve 2 Unite and is the author of My Life After Hate.

Come and see. What you are looking for, you may not expect it; it may come from a distasteful, uncomfortable, or unexpected “place” like McDonalds, a white supremacist, Cermak, Nazareth whatever Jesus says, Come and see. Come and see Amen.