Pink And Wonderful

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

12th Sunday After Pentecost -- Goodbye Fred

12th Sunday After Pentecost
Follow Your Passion
August 15, 2010
Grace and peace to you from God the Creator, the Redeemer and the One who Sustains.
“I come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled. I have a baptism with which to be baptized, 
and what stress I am under until it is completed.”
Jesus is fired up!
It sounds like he is really angry. 
We wonder what has precipitated such harsh language?
 We aren’t sure just what has set him off.
Perhaps he is mad because his disciples and those that keep following on his heels just don’t seem to get it.
And he is under stress because he knows that he is going -
to a cross and a grave.
But before he goes
he just has to let his disciples and all these folks following him know
not only who he is, but his purpose---he has come to bring fire,
to ignite his disciples to be active in changing the world.
He has tried telling them nicely
“repent the kingdom of God is at hand.”
Because Jesus thought that this might motivate them.
He has tried showing them by feeding those who are hungry, 
healing and returning to community those cast out,
preaching release to the captives,
good news to the poor, 
and they still don’t seem to get it
I can see his face contorting almost yelling:
“Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? 
No, I tell you but rather division.”
 his ire is up
And we don’t know what to do.
This certainly isn’t the sweet baby Jesus with the adorable coo
 and squeezable cheeks we see at Christmastime.
This certainly is not the meek and mild Jesus
 that gently walks beside us and gives us no trouble at all.
No this is the fiery, revolutionary Jesus, 
who has come to turn the world upside down.

Of course he comes to bring division.
Because he is not the mighty, powerful military leader they expect
he comes ushering in a kingdom,
as I understand from reading a commentary by David Lose,
   ruled not by force but by forgiveness,
not by fear, but by boldness
and not by power but by compassion and kindness.

"Yet those who have a stake,
those lured by temptations of wealth, status and power;
and those who govern resist this coming 
kingdom for it spells an end to what they have grown accustomed to. 
Jesus- as he comes to establish a rule of peace, 
wholeness," well-being for all- 
indeed brings division.
 Of course we don’t know what to do with the reality of Jesus radical proclamation.
It makes us extremely uncomfortable,
just as it made his followers
Perhaps Jesus is challenging them and us to 
live more fully into a way of life that calls for a different kind of peace--
a peace that includes justice for all

 Jesus asks 
“You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky; but why do you not know to interpret the present time?”
He’s telling them it’s time to wake up and pay attention.
look at the world and see that God's kingdom has not yet come.

It is hard to hear these and other words we have heard in the last few weeks.
We are after all comfortable members of an extremely privileged culture 
and of course we will hear these words with annoyance.

Yet there are many who yearn to here words that speak of a world 
without poverty, hunger, and injustice. 
What his disciples and those following close on his heels didn't get
What we don't get is that we are following Jesus--
a man whose purpose is to replace crowns with crosses.

And that’s good news.
Yes the words of Jesus sound harsh.
But for some it is good news.
It is good news to those who are poor and powerless.
those who are left out and excluded,
those who are pressed down by the muck and mire of the world,
and need the world to turn around so that they might have a fighting chance.
But there certainly doesn’t seem to be much good news for us 
 in our text today ----
We hear ranting and raving even in Jeremiah.
I’m sorry Fred, my intention was to preach a nice little sermon to say goodbye
But that’s not exactly what the text calls for.
As Jesus speaks to the disciples who carry the word of God into the world and the crowds, 
he is also warning us about the judgment for those who fail to see and act. 
The prophet Jeremiah speaks to both those who speak the word on behalf of God and those who hear.

He is speaking to us all about those who prophesy 
He is speaking about false prophets and those who twist and turn the word of God for their own purposes--
for the purpose of comfort  and comfortability.

It reminds me of those prosperity gospel preachers
who tell us that all we have to do is claim what we want 
and God will grant it --- anything--- new house, new car, new stuff.
It sounds as if they want us to believe in a god who is at our beck and call
and easy to manipulate, and absolutely undemanding.
 That is not the God who Jeremiah knows and proclaims.
God is not a God who is far off.
But a God who is able to see far and wide.

Yes indeed we serve a God of love
but not a God of cheap grace,--- but costly grace
It costs Jesus his life,
He was hoping that his disciples might expend at least a little effort.

A God who gives forgiveness, grace and mercy freely.
And, calls those who follow to act as those who have been loved and forgiven.
Just like Jesus,
Jeremiah is telling us to pay attention
and to listen to what we hear concerning God.
We are to determine who is saying a word that we like to hear 
because if it confirms us in our positions, 
supports us in all that we do, 
promises us no upset in our way of life,
We should be worried.
A major issue for those in Jeremiah’s time 
was that the people did not struggle with the words they were hearing.
In his time it was almost always a sure sign that the prophets words was were not the word of the Lord
when they confirm our every whim. 

"The true word of the Lord came from those voices who spoke uncomfortable and disturbing words, 
who challenged the ways and conduct of the community, 
who called for radical change . . . (NIB)” 
“Is not my word like fire and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”
Might this ranting contain a word of advice for a budding preacher?
A professor of mine used to say that the word of God was meant
to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
And while we don’t want to upset our comfortable positions in our comfortable congregations, Fred,
sometimes a word that challenges us to think about how we perpetuate unjust systems of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia,
how hanging on to all of our stuff
affects those who are hungry and living in poverty,
how when we see tragedy or disaster from the streets of Summit to the far away places of Haiti and Pakistan we are called to respond,
might just be necessary.
Fred  if we just tell people that God loves them
and don’t call them to love one another 
and the entire world that God has made 
then we might be inching toward false prophecy.
If we don’t tell those we are called to serve,
 that perhaps
Jesus wants us to have more than just a Sunday morning faith
that sits and sings hymns 
that feels good and expects Jesus to love us 
and take care of ONLY --- our needs.
but also a Monday thru Saturday faith that dares to walk
out of these doors to look round see what is happening in the world
to do what matters to God----for the sake of the other.
The good news is that Jesus despite his crabby ranting and raving this morning has already,enabled us, 
 and provided a role model for us to follow.
Follow that role model Fred 
preach the damn gospel,
love the people
listen to them
observe what is important to them
value what they value and they will value you
and engage- work with them laugh with them, cry with them
engage them in the words of scripture
engage them through and with the love of God
that you know so well 
But don’t let them off the hook!
Because Jesus doesn’t let any of us off.
Run Fred,
 with perseverance the race that is set before you
always looking to Jesus who is the pioneer and perfecter of your faith.
And Go from this place with our blessing and love
And may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind 
in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Immeasurably More

One of my blog followers writes her own blog and has dubbed her blog beautifulride so I don't want to talk about the beautiful ride that is my life. Of course, like so many I can say some parts of my life haven't been so pleasant. What I will say, is that my life has been and continues to be a wonderful adventure. You know like those African Safari Adventure Movies when they start out to discover something and they fall into traps, face down lions and run into all kinds of obstacles, yet they find what they were seeking. That's my life. But instead of finding what I was seeking, God found me.

The thing about it is every time I think it can't get any better, it does. I know I am being kind of vague but I don't want to start listing all the absolutely wonderful things I get to do. I think I did that in a previous blog. What I want to say is that my life has been so wonderful because of God.

I remember being a divorced single mother and wondering what I was going to do. I had a descent job as an electrologist in a beauty salon;  I rented an okay apartment and I was doing all right. My heart had been broken by a man that I thought was the love of my life; he was the father of my son--my husband. I thought that our lives were headed in a good direction. Then the crack cocaine epidemic began and he was an experimenter, one experiment lead to another and he was addicted. So our marriage ended and he was caught up for twelve years.

When my marriage broke up my son lead me to church. I ended up in a little congregation in Georgia where I was nurtured and accepted. In this little church I learned about the grace of God. This grace thing made sense to me. When I heard that God loved me in spite of my faults and failings I was hooked. This was different than the God I had learned about in my grandmother and grandfather's denominational tradition. In church as a teenager, it was a struggle to understand a God that wanted me to be perfectly righteous, but later it was no struggle to understand a God who had no such expectation. But there would be other struggles.

I struggled and in some ways I am still struggling to catch up with my contemporaries. I did not graduate from college until I was 36; I then went to seminary when my son was a teenager--talk about a challenge--but we made it. For most of my education I worked full-time, went to school full-time, took out massive loans and did the best I could. I finished seminary and was ordained at 40.

I had my second run at the altar in my first few years of being a pastor and it ended very quickly and left more scars then I knew.

Some may think I am giving too much information, but I am just trying to explain what God has brought me through. I think about that African American saying, " My soul looks back and wonders how I got over." The implication is that it is God who has made a way. The other day one of my facebook friends updated her status by asking, "what are you grateful for?" If I began, I could fill up pages and pages. You know the scripture that reads,  God "is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us." Well that's it. I could have never imagined, from where my life begin that I would be here. My mother and father divorced when I was about 8,  I became the child of a poor single parent; God has taken me from being a poor single parent myself to being pastor of what someone called just today 'an historic flagship congregation.'  Yet the most important thing is that God has given me such joy in my life and in this ministry.

Who knew! that God could take a poor little black girl and bless her so incredibly. I love God through Jesus the Christ, not because I am so able to love but because this God has first  found, loved, chosen, equipped and blessed me. And I am so very grateful, so absolutely grateful---to God.

What are you grateful for?

We Pray for Peace and Reconciliation!

They just kept on coming, waves and waves of people showed up at the green to pray for reconciliation and peace. They came because no one would have guessed that such a thing could happen in a place like this. They came because they were hurt and saddened and sorry. They came because they wanted to say no. They came to stand against terror and violence.

How could a murder happen in our quiet bedroom community? This is a place where the average home cost is at least $600,000 and most people have at least a college education. But happen it did. One Saturday afternoon a Hispanic restaurant worker sat down in a small downtown park. This small space between buildings is a nice place to sit with a cup of coffee read a book or just relax for a moment. It has nice park benches and a fountain that make it peaceful. But on July 17, the peace was disturb.

He probably sat down to rest before he made his way home. Just a moment to get off his feet after washing dishes all day.  A moment respite, perhaps that's all he wanted. Kids came into the park; teenagers, a crowd of them came laughing, possibly joking and acting silly. Then one of them put a shirt over the workers head and another pummeled him. He was found unconscious and taken to the hospital where he was robbed of his pay. He died three days later.

What turned a group of teenagers into killers? What turned a hospital worker into a thief? Why did this man have to die? What will happen to this nice suburban community? We don't know; but the Summit Interfaith Clergy Council organized this march to the Summit Green from City Hall, pass the Promenade to say that this is a city that will stand for peace in the midst of such violence.
Many who came brought flowers to place at the site of this horrendous crime.  On July 28, the Clergy Council came together with residents, police, friends, citizens and city officials to read words of peace and reconciliation and to pray. We came to tell the family of Abelino Maziniego that we are sorry and to stand with them in their sorrow. We came to promise this immigrant family the support of a community that comes from so many places across the globe but calls this place home. We came to say no more and with God's help to make sure nothing like this happens here again.  Many who came brought flowers to place at the site of this horrendous crime. They brought flowers to reclaim this space as a place of peace and beauty.

While the crowds are no longer gathered we pray for peace and reconciliation for a community that has been hurt. Will you pray with us?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Your Kingdom Come

Oh, did you hear about the beating, that ended in murder here in Summit on July 17? Well, by all accounts it was a most disturbing event. The agreed upon facts are that after his shift at Dabbawalla, a local Indian restaurant, a Hispanic man who has lived in this country for 13 years and has worked in this community for at least three years went to the Promenade right across the street from the restaurant on Springfield Ave and sat down on a bench there. At about 8 or 9 p.m. a group of teens came by one of them put a shirt over the father of four’s face another began to hit him while still another video taped the incident.

Jesus teaches us to pray: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come

The most disturbing thing is that one internet news article revealed that while this terrible beating was taking place more than a dozen people walked by, How could this be in Summit in a community where everyone and their child has a cell phone? Didn’t anyone think to call the police? I am astonished that while a man was being beaten to death citizens of this community turned the other way.

Turn the other way,that’s what the the men of the city wanted Lot to do as they came to his home demanding him to send out the men that were staying with him. Perhaps the ones being demanded are the men who, “turned from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the LORD.”
There is no good intended as all the men of the city demand.“Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.”  Lot refuses. I am not going to tell you what he offers them. You will have to read that for yourself. Just know that what happens to Lot is the conclusion of the story that we heard this morning in the 18th chapter of Genesis.

There Abraham stands before God asking God to spare the people of what we have come to know as an infamous city. What we know from scripture is that the people of Sodom participate in a wide range of bad behaviour, from neglect of the poor and needy to lies, greed and living in excess luxury, sexual abuse, and in hospitality to strangers. Sodom was a place of careless living and indifference.
Yet, Abraham stands before God asking him not to destroy this city to spare the inhabitants for the sake of those who have not done wrong. We overhear Abraham as he challenges God: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’
Abraham understands that God’s very nature is violated in the destruction of the good with the evil, to ignore the innocent in the carrying out of justice would be against the very mercy of God.” And so Abraham stands boldly before God counting on a relationship that is close and intimate. “Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city?” Abraham seems courageous enough, and sure enough in the relationship that he is able to ask God not to make good on his threat, not to destroy an entire city of people.

See the lengths that Abraham is willing to go. He bargains “how about fifty,” and God considers Abraham’s plea on behalf of his neighbors, on behalf of those he barely knows. How about 45 or 40 or 30 or 20 or 10? “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” God tells Abraham.
It shows us that while God has expectations of humanity to live in good and right relationship with one another Abraham has expectations of God. He has expectations as we all do. When we fold our hands, get on our knees, open our hearts, or stand in a posture of prayer, we want God to be God--big enough,
righteous enough, loving enough to grant our petitions.

Abraham is persistent in his pleas that God have mercy. Abraham’s care for the unjust suffering people is a reflection of God’s concern for those who are vulnerable. It is Abraham’s bargaining that reminds 
God of God’s commitment to justice. In this way Abraham is an example for us and challenges us to seek and pray for justice.

This story also helps us to know that we too are heard, that God’s ears are open to us as we pray.
This we count on as we look around in our world and see so much that needs our attention in prayer
just this week we have seen violence in our local community, racial tension in our country and wars all over our world. There is so much to pray for,

As Abraham’s bargaining with God moves to as little as ten righteous we read the incident of Lot and the behavior of the men of the city and we see that not even ten righteous could be found. Not even ten people of the city would repent and turn from their wicked ways. So, the city is destroyed.

It is hard for us to look and see a God who destroys. And yet despite the destruction we see the picture of a God who hears Abraham’s pleas, checks to see what the truth is--a God who is willing to consider our pleas.

Ask and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened 
These are radical words--words that have the power to turn the world upside down--if only we understood them. Yet this is what Jesus tells his disciples after “ one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord teach us to pray.” Jesus begins, when you pray say; ‘Father, hallowed be your name,’ 
he is saying to them to speak in the most familiar and intimate terms calling God Abba as he does. 
This word translated from the aramaic means more than Father but denotes an intimate relationship.
Like Abraham and Jesus we are to count on a relationship with God that is strong and intimate.
But as close as we are to God, we are also to reverence and hollow God’s name. It is so reverent to the people of Israel that even in writing the name was not spelled out and was never spoken. It was a name that evoked awe and power.

 And then Jesus says as we pray we are to say, ‘your kingdom come.’ And here is where I will stop because of course we think this is about asking for our daily bread, for the forgiveness of our sin, for our protection from the time of trial. And it is but not exclusively. We are to pray, not because when we pray we will get every little thing we ask for. All diseases are not miraculously cured but healing always takes place. The world doesn’t become instantly a better place and all problems will not with a snap be solved.
No even Abraham did not receive his preferred outcome. Yet, he dared to ask. 
Jesus says, ask, knock, seek, and tells us a parable of being persistent in prayer.
The prayers we are to offer with what one commentator calls ‘shameless persistence’ are requests for God to provide us with hope in a future that is here and not yet-- for promised eternal life, for equity, for peace, and for justice in the present and the perseverance we need to work through it all for a world that reflects the goodness and grace of God. We are to pray that we are able to work toward the reign of God to be able to do what little we can for God’s kingdom to come.

For what shall we pray 
certainly for racial reconciliation in our country
certainly for all those lost in combat
certainly for the family of Abelino Mazaniego who was 
so brutally killed in Summit
certainly for our community
and certainly for justice, reconciliation and peace everywhere
 with shameless persistence
we are to pray the words that Jesus taught us
Even if we don’t know exactly what they mean, we pray trusting through the promised Holy Spirit that a God who would send God’s very own son to die on a cross for our sins, and be raised so that we obtain eternal life would consider even our pleas---
Lord to all those who are suffering for this entire world, we pray, may your kingdom come.

Friday, July 23, 2010

We Believe -- A More Balanced View

Okay, so now that I have said what I liked and didn't like about my cousin's in the faith youth gathering, let me put it all together. I do this because nothing is just black or white, good or bad. What we believe as those who follow the German reformer is that we are simultaneously saint and sinner. This goes for both church bodies. We may easily point out each other's sins but we are, so to speak, in the same boat.

What was so wonderful about the gathering I just attended,  like the one in New Orleans in 2009, is that tens of thousands of young people came to praise God. Not only that, they came to help and serve in a city that has been devastated by natural and man made disasters. The city of New Orleans needs to know that the rest of the country has not forgotten about them and these young people let them know just that.

They walked the streets, spent their money on food and souvenirs and hopefully boosted the economy of this historical city. They were polite and well mannered. I heard this over and over as I visited the shops. And they went out, 12,000 of them to work all over the city. They were witnesses to Christ. Different than my denomination's witness, but witnesses just the same.

What is so wonderful in the culture that we live in is that it is still possible to gather so many young people together in the name of Jesus. Yes, Jesus' name was bandied about, sung, shouted and proclaimed. I have some problems with the way it was proclaimed -- I wish they would speak more about God's love; I suppose they would like us to be more pristine -- yet......In the gospel of Mark, John gets upset about others doing work in Jesus' name. "Teacher we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me." 

Indeed we may have differing ways to do the work of God, but we both believe that there is power in gathering, praising and serving in the name of Jesus.

Join me in this historic city in 2012, to sing, shout, praise and serve all in the name of Jesus. We are coming back New Orleans we have not forgotten. We come because 'we believe' in Jesus.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Post-Racial Era -- Not Yet

The present political climate is frightening. As a matter of fact it is down right scary. It seems as though there is a real back lash in this country because we have an African American president. Just two years ago we were hearing that we were in a post-racial era-- well--not yet.

This weeks incident involving Shirley Sherrod is case in point. The right wing media machine was trying to say that the NAACP was as racist as the new Tea Party movement. Well, there are a few things wrong with that. First we seem to be afraid to explain the classic definition of racism--prejudice plus power. This has been written about and talked about in numerous books and articles on racism. Joseph Barndt classic work Dismantling Racism written in the early 90's and the more recent work Understanding and Dismantling Racism: The Twenty-First Century Challenge to White America written in 2007 explains. While a person of color can clearly be prejudice they do not have the overarching power that makes it possible to be racist. Even with a black president this has not changed. The dominant culture in this country still maintains much of the power -- political and economical.

Secondly, has anyone ever heard two wrongs don't make a right. No one says that the NAACP or left leaning politic pundits do not sometimes act with prejudice, but to tarnish an African American woman to make a point isn't right. What the right wing media machine particularly, Andrew Breitbart, did was take a small snippet of a speech given by a woman who had worked her entire life to overcome prejudice, out of context. If anyone had taken the time to view the entire speech they would have heard that she was telling a story of where she started out. When she encountered white farmers that had experienced hardship and had been hurt by an unjust system, she came to the conclusion that it was less about race and more about the 'haves' and 'have nots.' Shirley Sherrod was telling a story of how her prejudice had been replaced by compassion. A white farmer appeared on television to attest to this compassion. Sherrod was being anything but racist.

What has happened? And how do we who believe in Jesus the Christ counteract this constant rush to judgement about people who are different or who have differing views than we do?

Well, I have a few ideas when it comes to race and ethnicity: First, we have to tell the truth. We have to tell the truth about what frightens us. We also have to continue to be willing to tell our stories. Sherrod told her story of overcoming prejudice and we can tell our stories of experiences with those from different ethnic and racial groups.  Secondly, we can educate ourselves on the issues. In my church library there is an entire selection of books on racism including the two volumes named above. We can also be willing to participate in conversation and bible studies that deal with issues of race and culture. One such bible study is written by the ELCA; it accompanies the social statement "Freed in Christ: Race Ethnicity and Culture." This can be found at on the page that list social statements.

The statement begins:
. . . there is one God and one Lord, Jesus Christ, " . . . through whom are all things and through whom we exist" (1Cor 8:6).

Scripture speaks of one humanity, created by God. It recounts our rebellion and enslavement to sin. Scripture tells of a diverse people reconciled to God through the blood of the cross, a people set free for the work of reconciliation. It heralds a new freedom and future in one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

I long for the reality of this "new freedom and future." It is here in Jesus the Christ, but not yet in how we live our lives. I would love to live in a post-racial era, but this will only become a reality if we work toward this. Are you willing? We really can live together in peace with justice black, white, and brown. We can live together with God's help. Don't you agree?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

We Believe --- God is Good

After all the ranting I did the other day, I have to say I love it when, my initial not so generous thoughts  can be proven at least a little wrong. They were this morning. Still in NOLA at the youth gathering of my cousins in the faith, I went to a bible study. The bible study leader was a pastor I met during my time serving a congregation in the South Bronx. My encounters with him throughout the years have been pleasant enough. He is smart, funny and the kids in the Bronx Parochial School where he serves love him. So I decided to go hear his bible study.

His study was from the ninth chapter of the gospel of John. He hung tight to the idea of look, listen, live and had some 5 thousand young people in attendance doing hand motions to that idea. He also had them reading the scripture along with him. He would say, 'who loves God's word? Thumbs up, those thumbs you use for texting, but God has a text message for you." The he would point them to their bibles. His style was engaging and captivating. I saw in him recognizable elements of the Black Church tradition. This young pastor, who has since the last time I saw him obtained a PhD in theology, had everyone in the room on the edge of their seats.

The bible study was theologically sound and very well organized. Some of the main themes of the study is that Jesus looks and sees who we are. The emphasis that Jesus knows us -- our needs, our wants, our hurts and pain --- was great. The pastor also talked about not our deciding to follow Jesus but Jesus follows us, seeks us out, chooses us. He described the process of justification through the man born blind as immediate and that his gradual coming to faith in Jesus was the process of sanctification. I enjoyed that explanation.

He also reminded those gathered that the theme of the youth gathering was not 'I Believe' but 'We Believe' because 'we' know and understand more about God than 'I' can know. The implication was that we help each other in our weakness.

When I went to say hello, he greeted me with a hardy, "hey rev, what are you doing here?" I told him that I was there watching how they did things and that I was happy to have heard his exceptional bible study!!!

Do you know any exceptional bible study leaders?