The rich man in Jesus’s story is in quite a predicament, isn’t he? Things are not going as he expected them to at all. Having arrived in Hades, not so much the heaven and hell of traditional Western Christianity, but a general place of all the dead, he is not getting the treatment he expected. Understanding riches to be a sign of God’s favor he seems surprised to be tormented by flames while Lazarus, the man who was clearly cursed with poverty and illness, is being comforted in the bosom of Abraham. The rich man doesn’t miss a beat, though. He knows just want to do. He will order someone to fix his agony for him.Continue reading
The video of this sermon being preached appears at the bottom of the post.
This morning’s reading from the gospel according to Luke, his account of the ministry of John the Baptist and remarkably brief telling of the baptism of Jesus, starts with a litany of governmental leaders. Luke tells us who all the powerful people are in the Roman world and in the regions that will be important in Jesus’ ministry – Judea, and Galilee, and more. He mentions by name not only the governmental leaders of the leaders of the Jewish community who work in some relationship with the governmental leaders, a relationship that will become important to remember several years later when all of these empire leaders conspire to put Jesus to death.
Luke starts with this time stamp and this recognition of the “powers and principalities,” but then very quickly pivots and in the same sentence says the word of God came not to these, but to John, the son of Zechariah, who was in the wilderness. The word of God, Luke is telling us, the words that John delivered, the ministry he was about, is for and among the people of God. John’s words that we heard, and will hear more about, are kind of harsh, right? They do not tiptoe around and make the people feel good. They do not allow the people who hear them simply to cast judgement on the evil empire or those corrupt rulers in Rome (or liars in Washington) and absolve themselves from any guilt. They confront us, and they call us to listen up and pay attention. This repentance stuff starts at home.Continue reading
The blessing of Zoom worship (there are one or two) is that it is easier to capture a video of just a sermon. This morning I stepped into the virtual pulpit (sat at my kitchen table in front of my laptop) to preach about racism and white privilege and lament and protest and to imagine what the Spirit is telling us our congregation’s role is in this movement of anti-racism justice. When I edit up my manuscript I’ll put it here as well. The reading of scripture (Lamentations 1:8-22; 2:10-22) is about half the video. I just didn’t want to make any cuts. #BlackLivesMatter
I wonder how Paul found out about Aquila and Priscilla. Were they the friends of a neighbor he used to pass on his walk down the street to the market every week back in Tarsus? Were they the Hebrew school classmates of his sister’s husband with whom he had recently connected when they ran into each other unexpectedly in Athens? Continue reading
I wonder if Jesus would be the kind of person who googles himself. I mean, if this story were taking place today, of course. I mean, instead of asking his disciples, “Who do the people say that I am?” I wonder if today he would have just popped open his laptop, pulled up a browser, and typed his name in the search bar to see what showed up, to see who the people say that he is.
It is impossible, and maybe even irresponsible, to read this story on this Sunday, after the conversation that has been going on nationally this week and for some months, and not take some time to acknowledge the painful reality of sexual violence and the injustices that can occur when there is an imbalance of power between two people.
In Joseph’s story the genders are likely the reverse of what we typically hear about in reports of assault, but again, the power imbalance is recognizable. A majority person with social, racial, and economic privilege, in this case an Egyptian woman, the wife of the captain of the guard, Potiphar, in our context more often a man with similar privilege, attempts to take what they believe they have ownership of or access to, the body and agency of a minority person, in this case an enslaved Israelite man, while in our context it is most often a woman or a person who is a part of a racial or sexual minority.
The situation, sadly Scripture tells us, is not new. And I wish, I so desperately wish this story, or really any story in the Bible spent a lot more time declaring what I am sure we all agree on – – This is wrong. This is sinful. This is contrary to anything God desires for humanity. Even when the story turns out good in the end, it is not because God is using assault to prove a point. And I wish, I so desperately wish I didn’t have to say that in 2018, but I do because there are people out there who will say the exact opposite – that God will put someone through a sexual assault to make them stronger, make them better able to help others, or even to punish them. But that is false, and that is the kind of dangerous faith-based talk that keeps some people from speaking up sooner.
If there is anyone in this room that has been made to think that about the violence inflicted upon them, hear me now. That is false. God’s love does not work that way. God’s love believes you. God’s love sees you. God’s love weeps with you. And God’s love desires and works for your healing and wholeness. There is nothing more sure to me than this. You are not at fault, and if you ever need a place to share your experience of what makes you able say “me too” I will listen. Me too.
Yesterday morning in worship, when I gathered with the children of the church on these front steps of the sanctuary, I asked them how they thought it feels not to know if there is enough food in the house to feed the family. We were dedicating the non-perishable food collected by our congregation and donated to the Salvation Army for families that need assistance, and I wanted to engage them in what these donations would mean to the people who received them. The children offered beautifully empathetic answers – sad, worried, confused, scared. It went about how I thought it would go. Right up until one of our fourth graders declared, “Angry!”
Sometimes when I’m leading a new Bible study I’ll start with some variation on a game I like to call “Shakespeare or Scripture?” Let’s play a little bit of it now.
- “Tell truth, and shame the devil” – King Henry IV
- “Every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge” – Jeremiah 31:30
- “Condemn the fault, and not the actor of it?” – Measure for Measure
- “Put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite.” – Proverbs 23:2
- “Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die” – Isaiah 22:13
Last week as we began worship, I took a few minutes to speak to the horrors of the white supremacist rally and counter-demonstrations that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia that weekend. The news and the shock many people were feeling was still so very raw. I promised that while our worship was not changing in light of the events that had been taking place over the last 36 hours or so, we would be revisiting it in the weeks and months to come. We are this morning, and we have to continue to as we move forward.