Musings from a Pastor, Educator, Wife, and Mother





Monday, June 13, 2016

Pulling Weeds

The sky is a brilliant blue this day, and a warm breeze is rustling the leaves beyond my window.  I spent three hours in the sun this morning; raking, trimming, pruning, digging.  My lackluster interest in gardening has been evident in my front flowerbeds for far too long. Leaves from last Fall piled into the corners, dandelions had made their home deep, deep in the soil, and there is a very prickly Holly bush growing within an Azalea. Why do we think Holly is pretty? Why do we decorate with it at Christmas?  Not me, never again.   I thought the work would bring me instant satisfaction.  The truth of the matter is that it does look a bit better.  But, honestly I have no idea what I am doing and toward the end of the morning some weeds (read clover, who knew!?) were just too frustrating to tackle.  The truth of the matter is that I love to admire a pretty lawn and garden.  I want my home to have curb appeal. But I desire to do none of the hard labor that goes into such an endeavor. 

 A sure reminder for me this day that while the sun shines so brilliantly for most of us, it is a dark day for so many other children of God.  A dark day because hatred is so deeply, deeply rooted into the soil of our society.  And it spreads, it multiplies like kudzoo or that nasty, nasty clover.  It spreads in such a way that to the untrained eye it does not seem threatening.  Hatred is so often disguised as something else.  And we don't mind the weeds so much when they are blooming.  Extracting the ugly, the hatred from our neighborhoods, our churches, our workplaces, our world...it would take so much work.  And do we even have the right tools?  Better to pray it will disappear with a hard rain or a biting frost.  

It is a dark day because people in this world, God's world, are hurting.  People I love are hurting. People I don't know are hurting.  Hurting because of love.  Hurting because of hatred that threatens the joy and promise of that love.  I am saddened by how common place such situations have become in our world.  I am sad that it no longer shocks me to hear of mass shootings.  It no longer shocks me that people have been slaughtered in places of sanctuary because of who they choose to love. Or the color of their skin.  Or the name they use for God.  I don't understand it.  For the love of God, I cry out for wisdom and understanding. Because I do not think I will ever understand it.  

For some this is a time to place blame on our politicians and to beg for policy changes, for stricter gun laws.  I am on board with that.  I would not take away the right to own a gun for the sake of protection or sport.  But the problem today is when you're selling a gun, how in the world do you tell what kind of customer you serve? Guns in the hands of the wrong people kill people. I don't pretend to understand politics and laws. Better here to admit my ignorance and call it a day. But, can't we all agree that something must happen.  Something is better than nothing.  

For some this is a time to place blame on a particular religion, whether it be Islam (so often the scapegoat) or the institution of religion entirely.  So much more for the media to exploit when fingers are pointed, sweeping strokes over an entire group of people or a religion rather than looking at the individual who committed the crime.  In Genesis 4:10 we read the Lord's response to the murder of Cain by his brother Abel:"
And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!"   I grow weary of telling people that Islam is a religion that proclaims peace.  Amazing that we have no problem claiming self-righteously that Christians are peace-loving... although so many actions speak louder.  You will read what you like. You will hear what you like. You will believe what you like.  So sad that some people in this world have closed eyes and ears to the opportunities for dialogue and understanding.  

For some this is a time to place blame on the LGBTQ community.  A time to shame children of God for exercising their basic rights as humans to gather together, to live and love each day.  Hate the sin not the sinner? Is that it? Actions such as those in Orlando reflect hating the sinner, not the sin (as some call it). So easy to throw such language around when one is not living through experiences in which such blatant ignorance and discrimination is cast.   I have friends who are gay, people who I love and respect.  People who live each day dedicated to their significant other, who work and play and love just as I do.  It sickens me to think that this event could ever have been them. I don't love them in spite of being gay. I don't love them for being gay.  I just love them just as they are-- as children of God.  You might be hearing a similar theme from me now: judgment of one another does not help solve our problems.  But, I speak from both sides of my mouth as a feel judgments bubbling within me even as I write because there are individuals who do not see through the same lens as me.  
It is scary to consider that such an atrocity could happen to anyone, at any time because suddenly hatred is okay. Is it?  I hope not, but it seems that way because we are numbed to violence, we let politicians spew hate speech and despicable racial degradation.  We seem to delight in the unfolding drama of finger-pointing and scapegoating to the point that I don't see anyone of power or merit actually listening to one another or effecting any positive change.  And here I am, I add my voice to the cacophony.  The voice of a middle-class, straight, white, Christian of privilege.  

Friends, our garden is being over-run.  The beautiful fruits we are meant to bear are being choked to death by hatred.  By violence.  By ignorance.  What can we do?  The work is so hard.  It is so overwhelming.  In my little corner of the garden here is what I will do.  

 I will pray.  What good will come of those prayers I do not yet know but I will pray for the people in the world to open their eyes and ears to people who are from the other side... whatever side that is; political, social, religious, economic.  I will pray for a healing dialogue to take place.  I will pray for the people of this world who find themselves in such a desperate life that they believe violence against one another is the answer.  I will pray for people who are discriminated against, people who live in terror that this could happen in their own places of sanctuary.  

I will add my voice to the chorus calling for love.  Love that drives out darkness and hatred.  And when I sing that song alongside my brothers and sisters I will keep one ear open for the cries that come back to me, to learn and discern how we might strive to live together, even in our differences.  

I will teach our son how to respect all people as children of God.  I will encourage him to learn about other faiths. I will encourage him to have friends from all 'walks of life'.  I will ask him what he thinks about current events.  And as much as I might desire to shelter him from the harsh realities of this world, I will engage him in critical thinking about what all this means for him and how he might work to make the garden beautiful again.  



Perhaps you will join me in considering what you might do in your little corner of the garden. There is work to be done.  Always, always work to be done.  


Monday, June 6, 2016

You Do You

I had the most wonderful weekend celebrating my 10th Reunion at Hollins University.   Having my sisters here brought to light how deeply I have missed their presence and how blessed Michael and I both are to have such friendships. Returning to a quiet house with my spouse away for work has left me feeling quite hollow in some ways, even with family around. How quickly physical presences can overflow your soul and how sharply the absence is felt when they are no longer here. I was equally blessed in being asked to preach the worship service at Hollins on Sunday.  I was honored to be asked and my heart was full having my friends there knowing that they needed to get on the road and back to their homes and their families.   Below is a copy of the sermon preached for Hollins Reunion on June 5, 2016 based on Luke 10:38-42, the story of Mary and Martha.

 

 

You Do You
 

A few weeks ago we celebrated my son Kemper’s second birthday.  His birth story is a difficult one that did not occur at all like we imagined it. His first birthday was also a difficult day, not at all like we imagined it.  So, to celebrate his second birthday with a party of family and friends was important to us.  We had planned to have our celebration at the nearby park where he could play on the playground after eating.  However, the morning was a dreary one, the ground already saturated from a week of rain.  On to plan B, a party at our house.  This meant cleaning the house in preparation for company.  I’d say about 6 hours’ worth of cleaning.  My husband said, “There’s no point to all this.  We won’t use half the rooms and it will just be a mess again the next day.”  But my theory was that come Reunion weekend the layer of dirt I would have to clean (again) would be thinner! Perhaps the popcorn trail from kitchen to couch and the goldfish swimming beneath the cushions would be…somehow….less. 

The closer the day of Reunion came, the more frantic I found myself.  Pile the sheets by the washer, scrub the counters, file the papers, get the sticky finger prints off of the T.V. screen! And I came back to this passage of scripture. Once again I found myself relating to Martha. The sister who wanted to have it all together, or at least appear that way.  And so I stopped just short of putting mints on the guest bed pillows (sorry girls) and I took a deep breath.  After all, these are my Hollins sisters.  The women in my life who have seen me at my very best and my absolute worst.  And this weekend was not to come and see my organized pantry or my sparkling countertops.  It was to be together. To return to the grassy quad where we found ourselves at home with one another. 

There are two relevant points to be made about the narrative of Mary and Martha and their encounter with Jesus in the Scripture passage we heard today.  Let’s begin with Martha. We are told that this is her home that Jesus has entered and that he is to dine with them.  This is an incredibly important detail.  You see, in that day and time, hospitality was the cornerstone of society.  It is vitally important to Martha that her home and table reflect her respect of Jesus as an honored guest.  Yes, her duties take her away from visiting with Jesus but she is not in the wrong to do the work that she was driven to do. 

The other important fact to know about first century Palestine is that Mary’s behavior was in direct opposition to the manner in which she was expected to live.  That is why Martha was so angry with her! It wasn’t just because she didn’t have any help in the kitchen.  It was because she was likely embarrassed that Mary had “forgotten her place.”  Later on in the gospels, Mary rebels even more when she unbinds her hair in a room full of disciples, dumps expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and dries them with her hair.  But Mary had a thirst for the teachings of Jesus.  She wanted to learn.  She wanted to follow. 

I can’t help but think that were Mary and Martha alive in our time they would most certainly be Hollins Women.  They both demonstrate strength of character and they do so unapologetically.  The way I was raised combined with my four years at Hollins taught me that I can be and do anything I set my heart and mind to.  I have a feeling many of the women in this room would say the same.  I graduated with a degree in English and I was the only person in the class of 2006 to graduate with a major or a minor in Religious Studies.  And while things are rapidly changing in my context, I am a female in a predominantly male driven field.   I am one of a handful of ordained clergy women out of the 124 Presbyterian congregations in the surrounding area.  But that doesn’t bother me.  Because here’s what I have learned and continue to learn.  You do you.

I think that is the message for us in this narrative from the gospel of Luke.  From all corners of society we find ourselves under pressure from someone else to be someone different. To do something better.  Many of us have heard the phrase, “mom-shaming”.  Ridiculous that such a phrase should ever exist, but it does.  It isn’t just about motherhood though, it’s about everything. Are you a stay at home parent? What a cakewalk.  Do you work full time? Shame on you for letting someone else parent your child.  Do you breast-feed…in public?! Gasp.  Oh your child is bottle-fed? Hmm… that is unfortunate. You don’t have children, how sad.  You don’t want children? Why?? You cook all organic meals, you must be judging the McDonald’s we just scarfed down in the van.  You can’t cook, might as well take away your female card all together.  You’re changing careers….at forty?  Can we say midlife crisis? You have a master’s degree? You must be really wealthy.  You muck stalls for fun? You must be wealthy.  You’re divorced? Fail. You’re unmarried? Fail. You have a spouse and 2.5 kids, life must be perfect.  You’re retiring, that must be so nice! What do you mean you don’t know what you’ll do with yourself?  Your children are still living at home, poor parenting.  Your grandchildren have moved in with you, I bet you are overwhelmed, what’s wrong with your kids? You don’t go to church? Oh, that’s what is missing in your life.  You’re a pastor? What do you do the other 6 days a week? You’re transgender, let me tell you what bathroom to use.  You’re gay? Let me hurl scriptures out of context at you like daggers. You work 50 or 60 hours a week? What a great employee, I bet you’ll be the boss one day!  You’re a republican? Scoff.  You’re a democrat? Scoff.  You don’t care about politics? Then you don’t care about anything! Judgment after judgment. Let’s not even talk about what the term “beach body” means. We all do it from time to time.  It takes mere seconds to think it or say it.  But it causes many layers of damage to another person.  The last thing we need is to tear each other down. We should be lifting one another up!


Out of God’s great love each of us were created in God’s image, an image that is so deep and wide there are not enough words in our vocabulary to appropriately describe God.  Thus, we are not expected to all be the same type of person or do the same things.  YOU DO YOU. There are many reasons why God shouldn't have called you, or me, or anyone else for that matter, but God doesn't wait until we are perfect to call us. You're in good company if you think you aren't ready for God to use or you aren’t worthy of God’s love.


 

 
  • Moses was a murder.
  • Noah got drunk.
  • Abraham lied.
  • Sarah laughed at God's promises.
  •  David's armor didn't fit.
  • Hosea's wife was a prostitute.
  • Jacob was a liar.
  • David had an affair. 
  • Jesus was too poor.
  • David was too young.
  • Peter was afraid of death.
  • Lazarus was dead.
  • Naomi was a widow.
  • Ruth was a foreigner.
  • The Apostle Paul was a murderer.
  • Jonah ran from God.
  • Miriam was a gossip.
  • Thomas doubted.
  • Jeremiah was depressed and suicidal.
  • Elijah was burned out.
  • John the Baptist was a loudmouth.
  • Martha was a worry-wort.
  • Mary may have just been lazy.

You see: We have it in our power to stop this monsoon of negative criticism of each other.  It’s simple really: you do you!  Jesus accepted Martha’s hospitality.  The moment he stepped over the threshold into her home he accepted Martha for who she was.  Now, he may have encouraged her to sit down and accept what he was offering her after dinner, but he had no problem dining on the meal she so carefully provided.  Jesus delighted in Mary.  I think he valued her rebellious nature because she was the type of woman he wanted other females in her day to feel free to become.  Christ came to earth and dwelt among us not just for Martha’s, not just for Mary’s, but for ALL people.  Real people, authentic people.  Broken, sinful, marginalized people.  Jesus embraced people for who they were at each encounter.  He does the same for you. 

 So, as you leave the Hollins bubble; drink deeply from the refreshing well you’ve been given in renewed friendships.  Remember that the women with whom you are surrounded love you for you.  Embrace your gifts and chase your dreams, no one else’s.  Find ways to pick up the pieces of the brokenness you might be feeling and figure out how to carry them as you move forward.  The scriptures tell us to Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind.  And to love your neighbor as yourself.  Love your neighbor. Love yourself.  You do you. Amen.

 


 

Benediction

Keep Alert (until you are too tired to stand, then rest well).
Stand firm in your faith
(unless you cannot, then know God holds you tightly in weakness).
Be courageous (until you cannot, it’s okay to be afraid).
Be strong (unless the situation brings you to your knees, then lean on one another). 
Let all that you do be done in love (Always. Always love).
 
Levavi Oculos,
 
Loren

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Obedient in the Faith

On Wednesday June 1 our congregation held a Worship Service and Commissioning for Captain Richard Addo.  Richard is a church member who is being deployed to serve as a military chaplain in the Middle East.  The offering below is a homily I preached for this service. 


Psalm 24, Acts 6:1-7

 

Obedient in the Faith

 

This little passage in Acts is fascinating.  So much is implied in these few verses.  The Christian faith is growing.  It is expanding more rapidly than the followers of Christ, The Twelve as they are called, can keep up with.  This is the first time in Acts that the followers of Christ are called, “disciples”.  We are told that there are Hellenists and Hebrews in the mix and it seems that they have some disagreements.  Imagine that.  I believe that in these texts the term Hellenist describes Greek speaking Christians, while Hebrews refers to those Jewish, Aramaic-speaking Christians.  The greatest difficulty is that the widows of this particular community are being neglected.  This is an affront to all parties as the Old Testament expressly encourages care for the widows, who have little property or money to care for themselves.  The Twelve assume that their leadership requires that they be about the business of preaching and teaching, leaving them little time to feed the poor.  Thus, they call from among them seven men to be about the task of seeing to the bodily needs of the people, particularly the widows.  No doubt the seven men who are chosen for this task felt led by the Spirit into this ministry. But in order to serve the Lord in this way, they no doubt had to let go of what they perceived God desired in their service and take up a new ministry. 

There are times when the Lord calls us away from the faithful life we are leading in order to serve God in another way.  This is the case for Richard.  I have had the pleasure of getting to know Richard just a little bit through my time serving on the Committee on Preparation for Ministry.  What a joy to witness Richard express his call to ministry. Most recently Richard has been serving as a hospital chaplain at Carillion.  Richard has also been preaching and serving with congregations in Baltimore and Richmond.  All this time Richard has also been a part of the Army Reserves.  It is this service that calls Richard beyond our own borders, away from his family and his home to serve the Lord in another way.  Richard will have the distinct privilege of ministering to our armed forces as a chaplain.  I cannot imagine a more difficult calling than this.  Richard will be one of these soldiers and yet set apart from them.  He will witness daily their sacrifices for our country even as he wrestles with his own.  He will provide prayer, fellowship, and sanctuary to men and women who will experience things that most of us cannot begin to imagine.  And if you yourself have experienced military deployment yourselves, you feel the weight of Richard’s coming year all the more heavily.  How blessed we are to know Richard, and men and women like him, who are willing to serve our country as well as seek peace for nations around the world, as Christ would have us do.  Much like the Seven, Richard will be commissioned and prayed over with the laying on of hands.  Much like the Seven, Richard, full of Spirit and Wisdom, will be seeing personally to the spiritual well-being of those around him.  He will ensure that they are being fed by the Word when they are spiritually hungry.  He will pray for the mental, spiritual, and physical health of his comrades in arms.  He will daily be the hands and feet of Christ.  

As Richard’s church family we too are called to be obedient in faith.  Our duty to Richard and his family does not end here, it begins here.  We are called upon to be in prayer daily for Richard, his wife, and his children.  We are called upon to provide a safe place of Sabbath for Richard and Mari’s family.  And this is not just on Sunday mornings, but each day, we are charged to be a pillar on which this beloved family can lean.  Let us listen to them when their hearts become heavy.  Let us catch tears of sadness should they fall out of loneliness or missing their spouse and father.  Let us provide opportunities for spiritual wellbeing and moments of laughter and joy.   Let us send our thoughts, prayers, and cards to uplift the spirits of Richard and his comrades.  May we continue to be the church for those here with us and those who are far away.  This is our calling.  Guide us, Lord.  Amen. 

 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Meditation on Creation (Haiku's for daily praise)

While in seminary I had the pleasure of taking a class that was co-taught by two of my favorite professors, Dr. Carson Brisson and Dr. Rebecca Weaver.  The class was called "Writing The Faith" and in it we read various creative texts on religion and spirituality.  From those readings we were to be inspired and given prompts to write creatively on our own.  Right up my alley!  The poem below is an offering from that class.  I've tried to define the Hebrew words that are utilized in the poem, although not as eloquently as Dr. Brisson would have done. He would have given a story for each word!

 
"Sabbath is not for the sake of weekdays but weekdays are for sake of Sabbath. It is not an interlude but the climax of living."--Abraham J. Heshel
 
 
(Sunday)

blessed, hallowed, rested

the Lord claimed that it was Good

honor Elohim[1]!


(Monday)

toh-vu-va-vohu[2]

separating light from dark

Night and Day praise God!


(Tuesday)

Firmament and sea

Adonai[3] called the dome Sky

glory to our Lord!
 

(Wednesday)

soil rose from water

Earth and Sea, vegetation

Creator, we praise!


(Thursday)

Spoke--let there be lights

Sun, Moon, and millions of stars

sing your majesty!


(Friday)

winged fowl, swimming fish

filling the waters and Earth

gracious your bounty!

 

(Saturday)

Remes, Behemoth[4]

in Your image we are raised

Hallelujah Lord!

 



[1] A name frequently used for God in the Hebrew Bible. Elohim (plural of El) the first name used for God in the Old Testament.  “In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth.”
[2] The Hebrew word for the Chaos out of which God created all things.  “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”  
[3] Adonai, a name for God.  Often used together with Elohim.
[4] Remes: Hebrew for the “Creepy-crawly, tiny things that move along the earth. Behemoth: a giant beast. "And God said, let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." 

 


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Movement


May 15, 2016, Pentecost

Gen 11:1-9

Romans 8:14-17

Movement

 

Movement.  In the desert.  A flurry of activity from a cookie-cutter civilization.  Movement toward a common goal.  Build a tower.  Build a grand tower brick by brick to scrape the sky. To stand so high you watch clouds float by.  Movement. Upward mobility, the type of which would bring a great name for a people unto itself.

Movement. In the desert.  The Lord came down. Always down, to meet the people of God’s creation.  The humanity which he brought with the breath of life. The humanity he had named.  They dared to make a name for themselves. Only God names.  Movement.  The Lord scatters the people. God divided their tongues.  No longer one language, no longer one culture, no longer one people.  Movement. Scattered like dry leaves from a strong wind. 

Movement.  Generation after generation the people scattered upon the earth. Divide, then multiply. Then divide again.  All strive to make a name.  All strive to hold their own power.  All strive to be like God. All strive to be favored by God.  And all fail. Until….

Movement.  The Lord came down. Always down, to meet the people of God’s creation.  The humanity in which he had breathed life, the humanity God named--Emmanuel. God with us.  Only God names.  Movement.  Jesus walked among us, gathering the scattered; healing the lame, feeding the hungry, speaking the Word.  All strive to give him names.  Son of Man, Son of God, Messiah, Rabbi.  All strive to give him power. Make him King.  All strive to be like God.  All strive to be favored by God. 

Movement.  A walk to death, a place on the cross. A final breath. A burial. A stone rolled away.  A stranger on the road, a stranger on the beach. A savior, who once was dead and now is alive. Raised to the God who always comes down, to be seated with God at the throne of grace.

Movement.  Shifting eyes and sweaty hands. Feet shuffling on the dusty floor of a cramped room.  Disciples of a Rabbi who had gone ahead of them. The students must become the leaders. When the day of Pentecost had come they were gathered in one place. But that was as far as they’d come.  As far as they could go.  They no longer knew movement.  They were stagnant. Weighed down by the crush of fear. 

Movement.  A strong wind. God’s breath, the very Spirit of God tore through windows, whipping the robes and sashes of the people. People gathered yet scattered. It filled the house.  Divided tongues of fire rested on each head.  Movement.  Once frozen in fear, now thawed.  Filled with the Holy Spirit they knew the words to speak.  They spoke in other languages. And they began to comprehend. Amazed. Astonished. Movement.  God’s people scattered. God’s people gathered.  Children of God. Heirs of God. United with Christ-- brothers and sisters.  Go out. Go out. Go out.  Movement. 

 

 

In his book, “WorldChanging 101,” David LaMotte talks about the difference between a hero narrative and a movement.  Is the arc of history through which we weave the account of Jesus’ ministry a hero narrative or a movement?   A hero is extraordinary. A great person, an extraordinary human encounters a crisis and does something dramatic.[1]  Doesn’t sound unlike Christ does it?  He was extra-ordinary: fully human but also fully divine.  Jesus entered humanity and encountered a crisis of faith and sought to dramatically reclaim and reform the ways in which God’s people understand God’s divine love.  So, Jesus is a hero, what do we do now? We are not heroes, we cannot do the extraordinary.  Let us just wait for Christ to return.  It can’t be long now, he’ll be back.  Surely, when we see the world in crisis: war, poverty, illness, violence: surely the hero will come save us soon.   Let’s just huddle together, here in our safe sanctuary. And wait. 

Except that we can’t.  The triune God did not send the Paraclete, the Advocate, The Holy Spirit to us so that we could sit on our hands and wait!  You see, Jesus’ story is not a hero narrative at all. It’s a movement.  A movement that began when Jesus walked along the shoreline and gathered the twelve. It continued with the tongues of fire dancing over the heads of the first gathered Christians that continues in us today!  I am arguing, as LaMotte does in his book, “that the function of heroes is to inspire others.  And when a lot of people move a little bit, the problems begin to be addressed.” 

If we turn back to our Genesis reading today, the story of the tower at Babel, we find that there wasn’t really anything wrong with the people in the story.  They were multiplying at a great rate.  They were decent folks, nothing indicates otherwise.  But they were also scared.  They didn’t want to become divided, they wanted to be bound together by a common mission, and they wanted to build a fortress of protection, a great city that would give them notoriety.  God saw that if they were forever one people with one language and one culture they would never grow, they would never learn anything new as a homogenous people. They would grow stagnant.   And so, as God willed, God added diversity into the mix.  And ever since we have found humanity in a struggle to understand one another.[2]

Babel has come to represent for people, our individualism and the right to better ourselves.  According to Douglas M. Donley, our own Babel today is “Our First-Worldness, our materialism, our economic and military domination.  Our Babel component is everything that built up the Berlin Wall, The U.S./Mexico wall, the disputes between Pakistan and India,[ the horrors of Isis], the plethora of denominations that seek unity only by throwing others out! Our Babel component is the fact that most Americans can only speak one language and we expect others to learn ours.  We grew addicted to Babel.  We grew up believing that Babel is the God of true spirituality.  Rugged individualism is the stuff of Babel.  Individual thought is the stuff of Babel.”[3]

Donley goes on to express that Babel isn’t all bad.  It is where we gain our cultural diversity, as I believe God desired it. For if there are no words great enough to encompass our God into a neat and tidy box, why should the humanity created in God’s image be any different?  Due to Babel, we get to push outside of our own understandings, if we have an openness to learn.  But Babel can also be that which makes injustices thrive.  Once we became a humanity divided our sinful nature caused us to feel driven to make distinctions between the haves and the have nots.  It made us feel like we could condemn “the other”.  It’s how wars begin.  We tend to look to ourselves rather than God.  And what we end up with is confusion. 

If Babel is a representation of humanities brokenness; of the infinite trials that humans have created in an unwillingness to accept our diversity in God’s image…. Then Pentecost is a snapshot of the opposite.  “The Spirit at Pentecost moved among them and they no longer saw each other as people to be suspicious of, but as fellow children of God.  They had a new freedom, and a chance to be a different kind of community.”[4] Pentecost is the ideal hope that we cling to and should strive to achieve as Christians. Note: it doesn’t say the Spirit moved among them and made them all think and feel the same way. But they saw each other and heard each other.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is what binds us together, what breathes new life into us, and emboldens us to go forth from the safety of our polished pews into the world.  Pentecost is that which gives us the individual flames of our faith that together can become a raging fire.

As Bob Fiedler would so often say, “Here’s what I’m thinkin’.”  I believe that the Holy Spirit was given to dwell in us so that the Bible would not simply be a book of myths and legends from long ago with no impact on our lives today.  I believe that often times we long for the Hero Narrative of Jesus.  The one where we imagine he will come back and clean up this mess we have made because we didn’t want to accept that all of humanity is in God’s image.  I believe that even though the Spirit of God dwells in us, we keep it as a low-burning ember, locked deep inside our souls because we love the power-- the Babel Tower--more than we love one another.  That is the brokenness of humanity that the Bible reveals to us time and time again. Maybe that’s why we don’t long to drink of the word deeply.  Maybe that’s why we don’t find lifelong learning to be a necessary component of our faith journey. Maybe this is why the word Evangelism terrifies us. The thought of sharing the story of our own faith with another person would require accepting that Jesus is not the only one called to enact change. We have to have a story too.  Because it’s tough to accept that the Bible is not a Hero Narrative but rather the cornerstone of a movement. 

As David LaMotte so eloquently writes, “If we cling to the myth that large scale change is effected by dramatic heroic actions, we risk missing opportunities for real impact.  As it turns out, movements are more effective than heroes.  And movements don’t need a lot of leaders; they need lots of participants.  In the end, the real power lies with us: normal people making small decisions to engage.”[5]

On this Pentecost Sunday I am asking you how you will engage?  This is the part of the sermon where I usually pat you on the back and tell you all the good things you are doing.  But I’m not going there this time.  Because the Holy Spirit wasn’t a gentle breeze blowing through a comfortable sanctuary scented with flowers and the warm glow of candles.  The Holy Spirit was like a tornado, a mighty, rushing, wind.  It blew the people back.  It stirred the air around them.  It caused the hair to raise on the back of their necks.  It made them edgy and uncomfortable.  The Holy Spirit didn’t make the mission of the people gathered easier.  It made it harder.  Where is your conviction?  What kind of movement is God demanding of YOU as a proclaimed follower of Christ?  I can’t tell you exactly what it is. But I can tell you what it’s not.

  It is not okay to let our world be overrun by hatred.  And it is not okay to throw a blanket over all people of Islam (or any religion) because it’s too difficult to try to understand the true meaning of their religion. It’s not okay to dismiss other cultures because it runs contrary to your own. It’s not okay to fight violence with violence.  It’s not okay to say my voice doesn’t matter so I will say nothing instead. It’s not okay to close doors in the faces of others because we cannot agree on a definition of love.  We need dialogue, not denunciation. It’s not okay to allow citizens to be hungry and homeless. It’s not okay to turn a blind eye because it’s not in our zip code. It’s not okay to let innocent children experience violence in their homes or empty plates at their tables.  And it’s not okay to assume that the only reason that happens in our society today is because their parents are drug addicts or deadbeats who cannot hold a job and self-righteously proclaim they’ve done it to themselves.  Just like it’s not okay to be brushed off as an upper-middle class congregation who focus only on their own busy lives, folded into ourselves.  We would hate that description of our families, of Covenant.  But, to be outside of something, looking in, it is easy to judge.   Do you see the dangers of choosing not to learn, not to understand those things which make us different from one another? Every time we allow ourselves to be overcome by indifference or ignorance we demonstrate to our children and grandchildren that the faith we hold in Jesus Christ who commanded us to LOVE—is null and void.  Our God whose character cannot be described fully in any language because She is too deep and too wide created us in Her own image.  Thus we are not made to be identical.  God believed in God’s creation enough to allow us different languages, different cultures, with inquiring minds, so that we might, by valuing the varieties in our humanity, learn to see God in one another and experience God more deeply than we would otherwise.

The truth is that we are both Babel people and Pentecost people.  To be inheritors of God’s grace, to be children of God, means that we are called to the mission of God just as Christ was.  A people called. Called to spread the good news of grace.  Called to attend to the people of every nation, every situation. Go out. Go out. Go out.  Movement.

 

 

 

 






[1] David LaMotte “WorldChanging 101: Challenging the Myth of Powerlessness”, (Montreat: Dryad Publishing, 2014)


[2] Bartlett & Taylor, Eds.  “Feasting on the Word” (Louisville: WJK Press, 2010)


[3] Bartlett & Taylor, Eds.  “Feasting on the Word” (Louisville: WJK Press, 2010)


[4] Bartlett & Taylor, Eds.  “Feasting on the Word” (Louisville: WJK Press, 2010)


[5] David LaMotte “WorldChanging 101: Challenging the Myth of Powerlessness”, (Montreat: Dryad Publishing, 2014)