Jesus’ words from our Gospel lesson today came to mind right away.
Jesus tells his disciples: “Do not be alarmed.”
Easy for you to say, Jesus.
Or maybe it’s not.
Remember that Jesus came to earth completely God and completely human.
He experienced everything it means to be human,
And he knows, and so God knows, the experience of human fear.
Any time the words “Do not be afraid” are used in the Bible,
It’s never in situations where there’s nothing to be afraid of.
It’s always in situations where people have very good reason to be afraid.
Jesus isn’t telling the disciples, “You have nothing to fear.”
Or “Your fears are unfounded.”
He knows that the changes in the world his friends will experience
Are going to be frightening.
Jesus’ friends are going to watch him be violently captured and executed by the government.
Jesus’ friends will live to see the temple destroyed,
Those beautiful, strong buildings with their large stones toppled and scattered.
Jesus’ friends will be forced to practice their faith under persecution,
And some of them will be executed the same way Jesus was.
The lives and worlds of Jesus’ friends will be so chaotic, uprooted, and violent
That most of them will live and die convinced that the end of the world
Was going to come very, very soon.
“These MUST be the end times,” they thought,
“Because everything I thought I knew
Everything I trusted and that made me feel safe and secure,
All those things are coming to an end.”
I think we might feel that way about our world today, too.
And still, Jesus comes to us,
as a friend and as our teacher and as a fellow human being,
And says, “Don’t be afraid.”
Today I’m going to end my sermon with a prayer for Beirut, Baghdad and Paris.
But I have to be honest with you:
I would not have mentioned Beirut and Baghdad today
If the attacks on Paris hadn’t happened on Friday.
The terrible loss of life this week in those places did not even enter into my consciousness
Until friends started posting comparisons of the attacks there shortly after
The Paris attacks.
I like to think of myself as a pretty world-aware person.
I listen to NPR.
I try to read news from a wide range of sources, including international sources.
But my awareness and my empathy and my level of concern is not equal.
And that’s a problem.
I think it’s a very human problem …
We react more strongly to events that impact us more directly,
Or have more empathy for people who remind us of ourselves,
Or listen better to news of violence that is unusual,
Like a Beirut-level attack in Paris.
Rather than ongoing, like a Beirut-level attack in Beirut.**
So, there are reasons for it.
And it’s a problem.
It’s a problem because as Christians we are called to love God and love our neighbors.
We are called to love God and our neighbors and even our enemies.
We are called to love God and love everyone the way God loves everyone.
And that’s a pretty tall order, but without that call,
What would we become?
Who would we be?
It would be so much easier to let go of any hope of caring as deeply about Beirut
As I do about Paris,
To just throw up my hands and say, “It’s human nature to be racist” and
Just go about my way,
Letting my view of the world become narrower and narrower and narrower.
But that’s not what God calls us, that’s not what God challenges us to do.
The most profound piece I’ve read since Friday night is a short article by Joey Ayoub,
a writer who calls both Paris and Beirut home.
He writes about the stark difference between the world’s response to the attacks
In Paris and the attacks in Beirut in the same week,
And with great honesty and openness, he writes this:
“The Human Body is not one. It sure feels that it should be by now. Maybe that in itself is an illusion. But maybe it is an illusion worth preserving because without even that vague aspiration towards oneness on the part of some part of the body, I am not sure what sort of world we would be living in now.”
As far as I know, most faiths have this ideal of the oneness of humanity.
In Islam, it’s called the ummah.
Just like our concept of the Body in Christianity,
sometimes the ideal gets bogged down in questions
Of who is included and who isn’t included in that oneness.
And the way we as people of faith around the world live out this goal of unity
Falls way, way short of the ideal.
But the fact that this concept exists, and persists,
In spite of all the evidence to the contrary screaming that there is no oneness,
There is no common humanity,
There is no peace …
I think that persistence is the persistent image of God in all of us,
Which DOES unite us,
Which DOES make us one family,
Which DOES connect us to each other and provoke us to care for each other
Beyond the usual boundaries of human empathy
Beyond our own narrow minds and prejudices
And beyond what pure reason and logic can ever hope to explain.
Lucinda Laird, the Dean of the American Chapel in Paris,
wrote a letter in response
To the many emails from colleagues and friends who wrote
Asking, “How can we help?”
Her answer connects to Joey Ayoub’s answer and it is this:
First, she asks us to pray.
Second, she writes:
“I urge you to give some serious thought to next steps. Your expressions of support are strong and genuine – but where do they go? We have all held each other up before – after the Charlie Hebdo shootings, for instance, and after 9/11 – and shared a strong sense of unity. I’m not sure where I am going with this; I only mean that our prayers must lead us to action. Here in France I suspect there will be very, very strong anti-Muslim sentiment, and one thing we must do is stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters, and foster conversation and understanding. I think we also need to work harder to care for the flood of refugees fleeing terror in their own countries – work for immediate care and for political solutions. You will need to find your own mission in the US, but I know that it must involve continued dedication and commitment to making justice and making peace, and being a light in the darkness.”
More than some vague aspiration for unity,
Can the Human Body respond to these attacks,
Not just in Paris,
But in Beirut and Baghdad and other places as well,
With prayers that lead to action?
How can we, here, in this place, work for justice and peace?
One thing we can do, right now,
Is baptize Hannah and Claire.
This baptism is one of the most important things we can do in response to terrorist attacks.
- It gathers us together as the Body of Christ in this place and time. And being together is really important. That’s what our first reading today, from Hebrews, is all about. No matter what is going on in the world, our in our personal lives, we need to come together like this to encourage each other to help each other grow in faith. Baptisms gather and encourage us in a very special way, and we can remember our baptisms every Sunday when we gather.
- In rite of baptism, Peter and Katie are going to promise to raise Hannah and Claire in the Christian faith so that they will work for justice and peace for all people. Hannah and Claire are really important to God, and God is going to work through them to make the world a better place. They will grow up knowing that they are made in God’s image, and that all the other people in the world are, too. And that it’s important for us to love and serve each other in our common humanity, and in our common dignity and love that comes from God.
- Everytime we have a baptism during worship, I’d invite everyone here who is baptized to remember your own baptism, whether you can remember the actual events of the day or not. Remember that you are baptized, and that YOU are important to God, and that God has called YOU to work for justice and peace in all the earth, as well.
We will take action.
We will live out God’s mission of mercy and love for all people in our lives
And in this place of worship.
But first, let’s go back to step one,
This prayer comes from the Presbyterian Church, USA.
God of mercy, whose presence sustains us in every circumstance,
in the midst of unfolding violence and the aftermath of terror and loss,
we seek the grounding power of your love and compassion.
In these days of fearful danger and division, we need to believe somehow that your kindom of peace in which all nations and tribes and languages dwell together in peace is still a possibility.
Give us hope and courage that we may not yield our humanity to fear
even in these endless days of dwelling in the valley of the shadow of death.
We pray for neighbors in Paris, in Beirut, in Baghdad, who, in the midst of the grace of ordinary life–while at work, or at play, have been violently assaulted, their lives cut off without mercy.
We open our hearts in anger, sorrow and hope: that those who have been spared as well as those whose lives are changed forever may find solace, sustenance, and strength in the days of recovery and reflection that come. We give thanks for strangers who comfort the wounded and who welcome stranded strangers, for first responders who run toward the sound of gunfire and into the smoke and fire of bombing sites.
Once again, Holy One, we cry, how long, O Lord? We seek forgiveness for the ways in which we have tolerated enmity and endured cultures of violence with weary resignation. We grieve the continued erosion of the fabric of our common life, the reality of fear that warps the common good. We pray in grief, remembering the lives that have been lost and maimed, in body or spirit.
We ask for sustaining courage for those who are suffering; wisdom and diligence among global and national agencies and individuals assessing threat and directing relief efforts; and for our anger and sorrow to unite in service to the establishment of a reign of peace, where the lion and the lamb may dwell together, and terror will not hold sway over our common life.
In these days of shock and sorrow, open our eyes, our hearts, and our hands to the movements of your Spirit, who flows in us like the river whose streams makes glad the city of God, and the hearts of all who dwell in it, and in You.
In the name of Christ, our healer and our Light, we pray, Amen.
**I preached that an attack in Paris was more surprising than an attack in Beirut, not realizing that Beirut hasn’t seen this level of violence since the early 90s. The attack in Beirut this week was surprising, and it was unusual for the area. I have much to learn.
Sermon on the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, October 18,2015, the Rev. Anne Edison-Albright preaching. Today’s text:Mark 10:35-45.
My sermon title for today is an unfinished thought,
And I’m curious … how many of you think you might be able to finish it,
Just from those two words?
Ask not … (what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.)
These are very famous words, right?
They come from President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address.
I bet many of you have some cool stories about your first experience hearing those words.
I grew up hearing that quote quite often,
Because it was on one of my favorite records when I was a kid:
The soundtrack for the Epcot Center themepark.
Along with such favorites as Veggie, veggie fruit fruit,
The journey into the imagination,
And a beautiful ode to Canada,
There was the song from the American Experience,
Which included snippets from some of the most famous, inspirational moments
in American recorded sound.
So I grew up hearing these words, way, way, way out of context,
Sandwiched into the song with few words from Martin Luther King’s
“I have a Dream Speech”
And the moon landing.
I had the words memorized, along with all the rest of the words
In the song,
And they kind of imprinted on me,
But it took awhile for me to start wondering what the words meant.
But I could quote it!
“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
I grew up listening to a lot of Jesus’ words, too,
Many taken out of context, many reduced to the most memorable
Sound-bite like verses.
And so, if you’d asked me,
I could have told you readily that that first shall be last, and the last shall be first.
And I could have told you that whoever wishes to be great must be servant to all.
But I didn’t take a lot of time to think about what that really meant.
I think somewhere along the line I took it to mean that in order to be great
Or successful in life
I should pursue a career in helping others.
Somehow I think fame and fortune is probably not what Jesus had in mind when
He told his disciples to be great by being servants.
I may have missed the point.
And that is the danger with a good speech like that,
A good rhetorical device …
People kind of hear what they want to hear.
What did people hear when JFK said,
“Ask what you can do for your country?”
From what I’ve read, it was received as inspiring and comforting during a time
When Cold War fears were at a peak.
Those words and that speech in general were a breath of fresh air,
A “we can do it, together!” pep talk of epic proportions.
And I wonder if it would work today,
At this time in the world when fear also seems to be at a peak.
If we were called to serve our country,
To be servants and volunteers to improve literacy,
And house people who are homeless,
Would we be comforted and inspired?
The piece that’s missing is the rest of the speech,
The context that reimagines our challenges as shared opportunities
For working together to do something real, something positive,
Something that makes our community,
Better for all people.
In his inaugural address, the part that isn’t quoted in the song at Epcot Center,
JFK challenged Americans and the world to realize
That we have “within our hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty.”
If the world chooses to end poverty and hunger, we can.
We have the means.
And we are closer to that goal now than JFK probably could have imagined.
Worldwide, extreme poverty will probably fall below 10% this year.
This has emboldened the international community to call for
An end to extreme poverty by the year 2030.
There would still be food insecurity–that work would continue–
But people starving to death wouldn’t happen anymore.
To get there a lot of serious and difficult work is needed,
To make international food aid more efficient and effective,
To empower people to find sustainable ways to get out of poverty
And of off food aid.
And to improve education and work options for girls and women around the world.
But it can be done, and I’d encourage you to look for the year 2030 in the news
To see how the movement is taking shape,
And to check out Bread for the World
For ways you can take part in advocating for better poverty-ending policies.
On World Food Day, which was Friday,
I joined religious leaders around the state signing a letter to send to
Senator Ron Johnson asking him to support the
Food for Peace Reform Act,
Which is a great piece of legislation that doesn’t spend any additional money,
It just calls for reforms that all the experts in the international aid community
Say are needed and would use food aid money more wisely.
That could change the system to make a real difference in millions of lives.
The quilts that we’re blessing today are going to make a real difference
In people’s lives, too.
The work we did together yesterday at Crafticopia, that was a service, too,
Certainly bringing more visibility to our community partners and our congregation,
But also spreading quite a bit of joy and cheer.
As Dorothy Tiede put it, “It’s like this day just brings out the best in people
And you know, that’s not a small thing.”
And this upcoming Saturday we’ll be raking leaves, serving soup, and
Serving a Salvation Army meal, too.
For fame and fortune?
To be great?
At the theological conference I attended this past week,
One of the presenters, Dr. Anna Madsen, said we expend a terrible amount
Of anxious energy trying to justify our existence.
If I do this, if I do more … I have a right to exist,
I am good,
I am justified.
I am great, maybe even the greatest.
And Jesus turns to us, to his disciples, and says,
You are missing the point.
You forgot the rest of my speech.
You drink the cup that I drink.
You are baptized with my baptism.
You are already justified.
You don’t have to prove anything to anybody.
Don’t serve to be the greatest.
Serve because you are free.
God has freed to you from the need to prove that you are great,
You are worthy,
You are good enough.
Without the burden of that anxiety,
We are free to serve out of a sense of joy,
And a sense of gratitude.
Ask not what your country can do for you,
Ask what you can do for your country,
And because of what Jesus Christ has done for you,
You are free to ask,
And free to be a servant,
Not because you must,
But because you can.
I wanted to talk to you about marriage today,
And we will talk about marriage.
But I also want to talk about what happened at Umpqua Community College
In Oregon this week.
I want to talk about it because I used to send out emails asking for your prayers
Every time there was a fairly major tragic news event like this one,
And honestly, I’ve fallen a bit behind on that
Because there’s just been so many shootings like these,
It’s hard to keep up.
I’ve found it hard, too, to navigate my way to a reasonable response to this sort of thing.
President Obama talked about mass shootings becoming routine in this country
And our responses becoming routine, too,
And that’s just … it’s just so wrong.
Nothing about this kind of loss should be routine.
And certainly there’s nothing routine about it for the people who are directly involved.
But for the rest of us …
It’s hard not to feel stuck.
Trapped by our increasingly polarized, partisan culture,
Trapped by the party lines fed to us by our favorite leaders and news sources.
The same lines, the same arguments, over and over again,
And the only thing that seems to change is that we get angrier with each other
And more entrenched.
And nothing changes.
So, I think what we need is Jesus.
We need Jesus’ mercy, his compassion, his radical welcome and care for all people.
But we also need his ability to completely change a conversation,
And make things really uncomfortable for everyone involved.
I think, actually, we need Jesus exactly as he is in our Gospel lesson today.
Let’s try it.
Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a person to own a gun?’ He answered them, ‘What does the Constitution say?’ They said, ‘The Constitution allows us the right to keep and bear arms. Our laws allow us to keep guns and to use them to defend ourselves and our property.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart you have these laws. But anyone who uses a gun, or another weapon, to kill another human being has committed murder. And furthermore, anyone who has allowed another human being to die because of their apathy and failure to care for the homeless and the hungry has committed murder. And anyone who has killed another person’s spirit by what they’ve said, or done, or by what they’ve failed to say, or failed to do: these people are also murderers.”
What does Jesus do when the Pharisees test him with questions about the law?
He completely changes the conversation.
And Jesus’ point is this: following this law does not make you good.
The fact that you have followed the law does not mean you are good with God.
It means that you are a human being,
And human beings need laws because human beings have hard, hard hearts.
After Jesus has this conversation about divorce, then takes a break to bless some children,
He continues along these same lines with the text you’ll hear next Sunday
Which is the one about how it’s impossible for rich people to get into heaven.
I think Jesus is doing the same things in all of these conversations:
The one about divorce,
The one about wealth,
And the one I just imagined about guns.
He’s deliberately upsetting people.
He’s actively trying to upset and overturn how all of us define what is good,
And how we measure our own goodness.
Jesus doesn’t let us point at others in self-righteous anger,
Settling into routines of us vs. them.
He turns it all around, right back on every one of us.
“Only God is good,” he’ll say in the Gospel lesson next week.
‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’
That is what Jesus is saying to the Pharisees, here.
You think you can keep these commandments, but you can’t.
But God can still love you,
And God can still forgive you,
And God can still save your life, in this world and in the world to come,
Even though your hearts are hard.
Even though your relationships are broken.
Even though you commit murder with your unkind thoughts, words and deeds.
Even though you have not yet sold everything you own and given it to the poor.
You can still be good with God,
Because God is so, so good.
If I was going to give a title for every wedding sermon I’ve ever given
I might call it this:
“God is good and we are not so we need God”
It seems like kind of a bummer of a theme for a wedding sermon, right?
But it works,
Because here’s the problem the preacher faces at a wedding:
Our Gospel text for today is one of a very few marriage-specific texts in the Bible.
There aren’t actually a ton of great Bible passages about marriage,
Or even about married or romantic love.
Song of Solomon is the closest we get, and that’s pretty risqué stuff.
But the other texts we usually use are about the perfect love of God,
Which is a little difficult to live up to …
Love is patient, Love is kind … love is never boastful or arrogant or rude.
So, at weddings I’ll often test this with a show of hands.
How many of you are married?
How many of you are ALWAYS patient with your spouse?
How many of you are ALWAYS kind to your spouse?
Human love isn’t perfect.
It’s wonderful, but it isn’t perfect.
And those of you who have been through divorce know
That sometimes human love can’t bring back trust that has been lost.
And sometimes we fall in love with people who are not kind,
And who do serious damage to the people who love them.
People who are married and stay married also struggle with this,
And I think we struggle more when we turn our spouse
Or our marriage into our god.
When we put all the weight of all our hopes and dreams and fears and sorrows on the shoulders of one human being,
And one human relationship,
That is too much,
That is too much for one person to bear,
That is too much for one relationship to bear.
The lesson I try to convey to couples on the day they get married
Is the same lesson Jesus is trying to convey to the Pharisees in our Gospel lesson today:
Do not put all your trust in your own goodness.
Do not make yourself or your spouse or anything but God into a god.
Being human is hard.
We have hard, hard hearts.
We need God.
And we need each other.
Our marriages can’t survive if we isolate ourselves and try to figure it out alone.
Marriages need support, from God and from God’s people.
And people who have been through divorce, they need support too,
From God and from God’s people.
We all need God, and we all need each other.
In the aftermath of this terrible shooting in Oregon,
The message I’m taking away from Jesus is this:
Change the conversation.
Don’t make it about us vs. them
Don’t make it about your goodness and righteousness
And the lack of goodness and righteousness in others.
We ALL need God.
We need God and we need each other.
We can’t afford to live in fear, in anger or in hate
We can’t afford to live in an echo chamber
Or isolated from each other and the world.
Our hearts are very hard.
But God is good.
Thanks be to God.