The Last Place to Find Christ-Christmas Eve Service

Grace and Peace to you, beloved

On this night of nights,

When Life itself was transformed

And God, whom we thought was hidden

Revealed Godself

In the form,

Of a babe,

Christ, the Lord

Amen.

(pause)

There are places in this world,

Where people are huddled,

Against bombed out buildings

And rubble strewn streets

Waiting for that transformative Hope

(pause)

There are people,

Huddled in the darkness,

Because it is the only place

That they can come

To lament

To pray

To comfort one another

Waiting,

Still waiting

For a glimmer of that

Transformative LIGHT

Piercing the emptiness of this world

(pause)

We are too,

Gathered in the darkness

Waiting for that transformative Birth

This night,

(pause)

That night

When Jesus Christ was born

Born where,

The people needed Him most!

Not in spectacular marble halls,

Laid in the finest linen

Surrounded by splendor,

Warmth

Prestige

And Majesty

Adored in exclusion

By a royal elite

But,

Jesus was born,

In the midst

Of the wilderness

Isolated,

Among the downtrodden

Oppressed people

Out in the indifference

Beyond city gates

Jesus Christ was born,

Where the people needed to hear

To SEE

The Good News!

(pause)

“In that region there were shepherds

living in the fields,

keeping watch over their flock by night”

(pause)

We,

As people of faith,

Have glossed over this verse,

Imagining these shepherds

Blissfully

Admiring the beauty of the moon,

The companionship and the comradery of one another,

And a seemingly peaceful night.

And yes,

There is nothing wrong,

With immersing ourselves in the familiar

Spending this night of nights,

Comforted by carols,

Hymns,

Pausing for reflection

Among the candles

Allowing the Word of God

To speak a Word to us,

Of that transformative HOPE

That is in the Bread and the Wine,

The Body and Blood,

Of Jesus Christ,

This Good News

(pause)

But for a moment,

This night

As we are waiting,

We dig deeper,

Is it interesting to know,

That being a shepherd,

Among these ancient societies

Was not a noble profession?

In fact,

Being a shepherd,

Amounted to the same as perhaps

A migrant worker is seen today:

Dead end,

Poor position

Stuck at the bottom

Gathering,

Waiting,

Still waiting

for

A sign

Of

HOPE

That

The Creator God had not forgotten them,

And that God stands with them,

Through their trials,

Tribulations

While taking jobs

That citizens despised

Jobs that they consider beneath them,

Jobs that although vital

To how the wider community moves

Jobs that have ugly labels associated with them,

Jobs that only lowlifes

Liars,

Thieves

Could muster.

These same labels were associated with the word

Shephard,

(pause)

Yet,

How curious

That those who were considered

The working poor,

Were despised

For taking these “dead-end” jobs,

Because for some reason,

The well-ordered society,

Didn’t think they

Were deserving

Of a living wage?

(pause)

Shepherds were lumped in along

With the tax collectors,

With people considered to be sinners,

Were considered to be unclean

They didn’t keep the Sabbath holy,

Although their work almost was from sunrise,

To beyond sunset

It is perplexing to say in the least

How these shepherds were treated

Even as their work,

Were essential

To this

Ancient economy

And so,

The shepherds gathered,

In the stillness

Obscured from those

Who cast judgement

Discounting their humanity

Gathering to discuss

The inequality heaped upon them by the self-righteous

A way of liberation for their lives

And suddenly,

HOPE!

The Good News doesn’t come to

The religious

The self-righteous

But to the outsider

The forgotten

The desperate

God comes to where God is needed the MOST

In the midst of their wilderness

In the midst of our wilderness

In those painful places,

Where we must admit,

As a broken people

We too, are still waiting

For HOPE

For the coming

Of the Kingdom

Of God!

(pause)

And this,

Is that Good News!

“Do not be afraid; for see—

I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people”

ALL the people,

The common folk,

The Gentiles

The poor

The lepers

The migrants

The undocumented

The peoples of Aleppo

Of Palestine

Of Crimea

Of peoples living in downtrodden neighborhoods,

In Englewood

And Pilsen

And Dixmoor,

Robbins

And

Harvey

Peoples who have been waiting for HOPE

For over 5 centuries

To finally have their humanity acknowledged

Affirmed

Peoples who have been waiting,

For their lands,

Their ways

Their sacredness

To be freed

Back into their hands

(pause)

Yes,

The Good News is indeed for all

It is joy to those who suffer

And yes,

We are reminded,

That the Good News places those

Who are insistent on suppressing

Oppressing

That the Good News of Jesus Christ

Brings them into a space of uncomfortableness

If they do not heed the call,

To repent

(pause)

“to you is born this day

in the city of David a Savior,

who is the Messiah,

the Lord”

A SAVIOR!

The Good News for us, beloved

Is that Jesus Christ,

Is indeed

OUR SAVIOR

THE SAVIOR

Jesus was born,

To FREE US

From Bondage!

Bondage to Sin

Bondage from oppression

And evil

That binds us to this world

(pause)

Salvation is merely not just a ticket

To heaven,

Salvation means,

LIBERATION

Jesus Christ is

LIBERATION

Therefore even as we struggle

Daily,

Because of this night,

Our lives are forever,

FREE

So go proclaim this Good News!

Christ is BORN!

Thanks Be to God.

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#BeChristinChristmas-4th Sunday of Advent

The end of the year,

Usually is a culmination of Holy festivals

Throughout our global neighborhood

Some which we are familiar

Hanukkah

And

Kwanzaa

And some which perhaps,

We are not familiar

Winter Solstice

And

Bodhi Day,

(pause)

As followers of Christ,

Celebrating both Advent

And

Christmas,

We are called to remember what is important

In this Holy season,

We are called to keep the meaning of Christ’s Holy

And mysterious Birth

In everything that we are immersed in

(pause)

But some of our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ,

Think this only amounts to,

Complaining and protesting viciously,

About the fact that Starbucks didn’t put

“Merry Christmas”

On their red holiday cups

Or griping when many retail workers,

Say “Happy Holidays”

And that we are not more demanding,

That everyone should say

“Merry Christmas”

Regardless of who they are

(pause)

What does it mean, truly

To Keep the Christ

In Christmas?

(pause)

Perhaps

The definition needs to be confessed

And proclaimed

Is that the only way to keep Christ in Christmas,

Is by keeping CHRIST

IN US.

(pause)

Keeping Christ

In Christmas

Means,

Showing someone kindness

Through random acts,

With no reward received back.

(Tell the story, simple about how Arif and a number of his friends had piled into the doorway after school on Friday, with plans to see Rogue One. Now, the young boy, my neighbor’s son had gotten permission to go from his mother but as she was at work at 3pm in the afternoon, he didn’t know how he would be able to pay for his ticket. This is where motherhood becomes universal, as I told Jared that I would make sure, he could get a ticket to join his friends for an afternoon of fun).

What story can you relate in your journey,

Where someone showed you kindness,

Especially in this holiday season,

Where stress is always a factor

Or maybe

It was YOU

Who brought joy and hope to someone’s life

That reminder

They were not alone.

(pause)

Showing someone kindness means too,

Opening up our sacred spaces

Where we live,

Where we worship

To those who have nothing,

Especially when others in power

Immersed in greed

Decide that those on the outskirts,

The outcasts

That their humanity

Means nothing.

Are we willing

To exude Christ’s grace?

(pause)

Keeping Christ in Christmas

Means,

Embracing those on the margins-

The undocumented

The refugee

Those who are fleeing a life of terror

Of Emptiness

Of certain Death

Simply so that they can take a full breath

Simply so that they can experience laughter

And freedom

And its funny,

We, as a people in this nation

Are so enraged about the issue of the undocumented,

Right?

We see them as a threat!

They come into our communities

Crowding our space

Coming from unknown places,

That unknown factor

We don’t know anything about them

Their families

Their lineage

Their history

(pause)

Interesting,

Sounds like Joseph and Mary

(pause)

Jesus’s parents,

And we are so quick to forget this,

Jesus’s parents

Were UNDOCUMENTED

Were fleeing Herod and his wrath,

His unjust laws

His persecution of their people!

We are so quick to lift up and adore and admire

Joseph and Mary,

We set out nativity scenes

And yet,

We turn our backs upon those refugees

Which by the way,

Come from the same peoples

We persecute today,

Fleeing oppressive regimes

Fleeing situations

That they themselves cannot be responsible for

Facing soldiers

Weaponry

Bent on oppressive destruction

Intrusion in those people’s homes,

Where they are vulnerable

Fragile.

We turn our backs upon them,

And the stress

The tragedy

The burdens that they carry,

Both physically

And emotionally

(pause)

Joseph was carrying such a burden.

Besides being born into

And shouldering poverty,

And making do,

Joseph, a righteous man,

Had to deal with the fact

That his bride to be,

Was ALREADY PREGNANT!

How would he keep up appearances?

Should he adhere to the law?

Which offered no grace

No reprieve

No forgiveness

Should he remain with her,

To be shamed possibly

By his community?

(pause)

We are so quick,

To lift up Mary and Joseph,

These devoted parents

Of the One,

Whose Birth

Has the power

To

TRANSFORM

Our

Reality,

Bringing in

Ushering in

A new horizon,

A new Kingdom

A new HOPE

(pause)

But we forget,

That Mary and Joseph

Were

TEENAGERS,

And yet,

We as humanity,

As people of faith even, sometimes

We condemn our young teenage mothers

And fathers

Labeling them only with their sin,

Forgetting we are all imperfect,

Instead of embracing them with our wisdom,

Our knowledge

And being present to guide

Mentor

Advise

Advocate

So that these children that they bear,

Grow up to be healthy,

Safe

Loved.

Just as Jesus Christ’s life was sacred,

So should every child’s life be as such,

Regardless to their beginnings.

(pause)

We forget,

That when we turn away

The undocumented,

Who are fleeing violence

The refugees

Who are fleeing war

The unexperienced

Who yes, make immature choices

We are in essence,

Turning away Joseph and Mary,

Rejecting God

Because see,

Because of this Birth,

Jesus Christ was born,

So that ALL would be deemed EQUAL

Because ALL were already LOVED

By the Creator God

(pause)

Keeping the Christ in Christmas,

Means

Sharing Good News

To a weary people.

Jesus’s name means

God Saves!

The angel who came before Joseph,

Shared with him Good News

In a time where he needed to hear it

In a moment when he was uncertain

But the angel proclaimed

that Mary,

“Shall bear a son,

And you are to name Him Jesus,

For He will save His people

From their sins.”

Emmanuel,

God is with US!

(pause)

Creator God,

Did not breathe sacred and holy LIFE

Within us

For us

To Disregard,

Disavow

One another.

Just as Joseph,

Claimed something precious

That was not his own,

We should claim

Adopt

Embrace

One another

Even if we are not the same

The same Blood

Culture

Tribe

Language

It is because of Jesus Christ,

The One whose Birth we await

The One to come

(pause)

Being Christ in Christmas

Means BREATHING LIFE

Into something once thought dead

Discarded

Useless

Worthless

A ministry,

An idea

A project

A neighbor

A relationship

A FIGHT

Towards

Righteousness

Truth

And

Justice

Thanks Be to God

 

 

 

 

The Question of Jesus

They were waiting,

Anticipating

This transformative birth

An emergence of liberation,

A shattering of chains

No longer ashamed

Of who they were

And whose they belonged to.

(pause)

They were waiting

For the presence of the One

Who would shift the atmosphere

And flooding into their lives

FINALLY

The Kingdom of God

(pause)

We are still waiting,

(slight pause)

And yet we embrace this time

Of thoughtful reflection

Meditation

Of prayers of joy

Hope

And

Towards

Peace.

We know what is coming

Who is coming

Jesus Christ.

(pause)

It’s all so clear to us, right?

We are sometimes so rooted in our faith,

That we can’t even fathom

Questioning about Jesus.

(pause)

We shouldn’t be too surprised

The questions,

The doubting

Coming from those who are stumbling for truth

The truth and the reality of the presence of Jesus Christ.

They are still waiting

(pause)

Not questions from our Jewish siblings,

Who are still waiting,

For the One

(pause)

Not from our Muslim siblings,

Who honor Jesus

As one of a most respected

Holy

And

Beloved

Teacher

But,

(pause)

From those who struggle

How any difference had been made

Because of this miraculous birth?

(pause)

And these questions aren’t from mere aversion

To religion or faith-

But from the depths of humanity,

Agony

And

Sorrow

(tell of the stories of the people, the first peoples, who are bound by their duty practicing stewardship of those resources from the Creator, The Great Spirit, Has given to them; For them to protect the land, The water, The buffalo, One another and yet, From the stories of seminarians, Some who were trained as trauma counselors, And Pastors, Some who are veterans, about the environment at the camps, About how they, our Native siblings, and others gathered in peace, But 24/7 helicopters and spotlights scrutinized and focused on the camps Even as they gather for interfaith prayer. And the peaceful protests Like the one in the Bismarck Shopping Mall A group of people gathering, sitting and praying even attempting to have conversations with those police officers and met with brute force and violence with no provocation.)

Would any of us be surprised then,

That these officers identify them as faithful church going folk

But this,

Is this what Jesus calls us to?

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

This question is a cry for many,

A cry of those who are shocked and pained

At how hellish this world has become

That the right to live our lives

As the Creator calls us

That liberation is out of our hands,

That instead we are pushed against the proverbial wall

Fighting,

Clawing our way out

For mere survival

Each and every day,

Which is in no way living.

(pause)

This same world

who confesses with its lips

Of its religiosity

And shuts out the prophetic

Healing Word of Jesus Christ,

That commands to love one another

Regardless of whom we love,

Or where our journey has brought us,

Or our status

Or how even we worship the Creator God

(pause)

This question about Jesus

Comes after we, as people of faith,

Maybe would confess that

We too,

Have wondered,

After experiencing and witnessing

All of the beautiful,

Mysterious

Expression of how humanity communes,

Communicates with God,

If this is the path for us.

(pause)

And we definitely can confess,

That this, is uncomfortable for us to speak of

Because many of us will proclaim our belief

In Jesus Christ

Came from being born in the FAITH!

And yet,

If we are honest,

We travel back within those places,

Excavating deep

Where we have buried the moments,

Of wanting to walk away,

Gotten angry with Jesus,

Shutting out the Light of God

Especially when it has been too hard,

Life has been too hard

Too painful to breathe.

We will never confess publicly

The times,

We are the ones asking Jesus,

Are you the one who is to come,

or are we to wait for another?”

This is our lament,

Especially when have given up,

Felt trapped by a world who doesn’t care

(tell the story of the most recent pastoral visit of a woman who came to my attention through other pastoral colleague a year ago who had needed a pastor to visit, homebound and wracked under illness. This year she contacted me asking me to come once more, after her attempts to engage a local church denomination had failed. She had been a member of this denomination for 30 plus years-and had been extremely active until her health issues became overwhelming.)

She was in a place,

Where she didn’t pray to God anymore,

She was in a place,

Where she was asking Jesus the same question

“Are you the one who is to come,

or are we to wait for another?”

She needed reassurance,

That God had not abandoned her,

She had the need to see Jesus

(pause)

Our brother John however,

Never had to raise the question of Jesus, right?

He had been in the presence of Jesus,

And perhaps that emboldened John,

Who seemingly didn’t care how he rattled the authority

Who was rattled at the message he preached,

Of Repentance,

Of Changing one’s self

Of turning towards God

Of submitting themselves at Jesus’s feet,

To follow Him

And yet,

The Empire

The Rabbinic leaders

The Pharisees and Sadducees

Revolted against God

Were angered by John’s message of change

And suddenly, John

Found himself imprisoned

And perhaps in that midnight hour,

Wondered too,

If he could trust this Jesus

“Are you the one who is to come,

or are we to wait for another?”

(pause)

This is the cry of freedom fighters,

Of protestors,

Of people such as Dr. King,

And others pushing forward human and civil rights

When we call out for restoration

Healing

Hope

Peace,

Justice

For places such as Palestine, Cuba, South Africa and Haiti

Detroit, Ferguson, and right here at home

And time and again,

Instead of conversation around a table,

We are cruelly pushed to the ground

Beaten and degraded by those,

Who claim to also, follow Jesus

But they are amiss,

That the inequality they practice,

Is not what Jesus Christ preached

Is not what it means to be a follower of Christ

(pause)

This is the cry, too

of those incarcerated;

Those who are judged and condemned by their sin,

Who are thrown away without resources

Whose humanity is erased,

When we on the outside refer to them as nothing more than animals

They have been left behind,

Marked as lepers,

Forgotten

In that coldness of a jail cell,

Or solitary confinement

I am sure they too wonder,

Where is Jesus?

Who is here for me?

(pause)

But we are amiss,

We fail to remember,

That on the Cross-

JESUS FORGAVE

Good News, Right?

Jesus Christ whom shattered boundaries

and flipped tables

and broke the law

So that He imparted

and gave freely,

Grace and love.

Jesus Christ,

The One to Come

With His Birth,

THERE IS HOPE!

Jesus brings the Good News to John,

To those who are homebound,

Those fighting the good fight

And those who have lost their way,

And to us,

Who are waiting…

The blind receive their sight,

The lame walk

The lepers are cleansed,

The deaf hear,

THE DEAD ARE RAISED

AND THE POOR HAVE GOOD NEWS…”

The Good News of Jesus Christ is,

YES

Jesus Christ is the One,

Sent by the Creator God,

Who LOVES ALL,

Who comes into this world as we all must,

Through love

Through joy

Giving us hope,

That not only that this isn’t all there is

BUT

That the KINGDOM OF GOD is here!

NOW!

And because we follow Jesus Christ,

We do have the freedom,

To go into those places,

Of lonliness

Of sorrow

Of fear,

And answer that question,

YES

Yes,

Jesus Christ IS the ONE.

Thanks be to God

 (art created by A’Driane Nieves)

 

 

Stay Woke-An Advent Journey

What holds us,

From being active witnesses,

Living out our purpose

Our role,

In this Advent season?

(pause)

Yes,

Perhaps your Pastor does indeed sound like a broken record,

Always pushing us to the edge

Shouting with JOY,

Like Auntie Mame-

“You gotta LIVE, LIVE, LIVE!”

(pause)

Prodding at you

Just as the Holy Spirit prods at me,

To leap into the unknown

To fling open wide the doors

Immersing ourselves in healing Light

Freeing those boundaries between who we are,

And Creation,

So that we are able to do ministry!

Of living into our being that creative instrument

Participating in reforming,

Restoring

The beloved community of faith

(pause)

And as we approach this,

What seems like an insurmountable feat,

Of engaging an ever changing world,

Sometimes we falter

Our knees buckle,

We fret about failing,

About our own brokenness being a barrier,

Our imperfectness as an excuse

Instead,

We find ourselves

Shutting the doors,

Escaping

Back into the safety

And security

Of comfortable places,

Where we are not forced

Or even have to face

This new dawn,

And all the troubles of the world

Weaved into it.

(pause)

Most often,

The only place of escape from reality sometimes,

Are our beds and bedrooms.

For me,

My bed was my sanctuary,

Weeks after experiencing a heavy loss in my family,

Of my Grandmother.

I found myself coming home from classes,

Crawling into the bed.

Who hasn’t done this?

After having to be out in this fragmented world,

After working in places where you really didn’t want to be

Left unfulfilled and drained,

Fighting the recklessness of traffic,

Bombardment of commercialism

It’s no wonder,

We identify our bedrooms,

As a source of comfort,

A place where we can shut out the world

(pause)

It’s no surprise then,

We find ourselves here,

In this place

Sunday after Sunday,

Trying to shake off the violence of the world,

Because we as humanity fail to see

The Light of God,

That shines in one another

(pause)

That we come here for answers to the confusion,

Confusion about who we should be serving,

Confusion about who is our neighbor,

(pause)

That we come here for clarity about greediness,

Because we have an addiction to the things of this world,

Human made, trying to replace that which we cannot see

Or hold onto,

Because it’s the only thing that makes sense

(pause)

That we come here

Searching for answers about subjugation,

Of peoples

Of Creation

Of everything that humanity perceives is weak,

Simply because we feel we have that right,

Simply because somewhere down the line,

Someone substituted “domination” for “stewardship”

In our relationship of this Earth.

(pause)

It’s no wonder,

We confess,

This place,

At the foot of the Cross

We are on our knees

We are crumpled underneath covers

Defeated

We should not feel any shame,

To lay at the feet

Of the One,

Who defies Death

Of the One

Who pushes back the darkness

Of the One

Who calls to us

FOLLOW ME,

Jesus Christ.

(pause)

Follow me,

Jesus says,

Our of your places of slumber

Out from places of uncertainty

Out into the transformed light

Of JOY

PEACE

HOPE

Of Love.

(pause)

 “..you know what time it is,

how it is now the moment

for you to wake from sleep.

For salvation is nearer to us

now than when we became believers.”

(pause)

Our brother in Christ Paul reminds us,

In his letter to the Romans,

That he was not addressing real time,

But eschatological time

When God’s Kingdom

Will be the new reality

And that deep within us,

We have awakened,

Therefore we cannot exist any longer as children

who have the ability

and the freedom,

to hide,

Hide from a shattered world seeping out

Sin,

Sin of ignorance

Sin of selfishness

As if this is not a part of our daily existence

We can no longer feign innocence

In not knowing

In disregarding

The damage

That the sins we commit

Against our neighbor,

Against the stranger

Have done

(pause)

We cannot neglect no longer

Those outside the city gates,

Outside gated communities

Trapped inside poverty,

And despair

We cannot just pull the cover over our heads,

And wait til morning,

And wait until the rapture

And hope that God won’t come into our space,

Yank back the covers,

And call on us,

To be a disciple of Christ,

To get our hands and feet and whole selves immersed

In God’s Work

“Keep awake therefore

 for you do not know on what day

your Lord is coming.”

And we hear this Gospel,

And wonder where is the Good News?

What Good News is this,

If we always have to be watchful,

Awake?

That we are charged then,

To face the suffering that humanity continues to pile

Upon one another,

To crawl out of our places of comfortability,

Pull back the curtain,

Allowing the Light of a new Dawn,

To stream in

Owe no one anything,

except to love one another;

 for the one who loves another

has fulfilled the law;

Love does no wrong to a neighbor.”

We are waiting,

Waiting as an impatient people

For Jesus Christ to come,

TRANSFORM THIS WORLD

We are waiting,

Not for the promises apocalyptic nightmare,

But the coming of the Kingdom of God!

Because God promised us,

Never again,

Would we be wracked by such floods,

Fires,

Calamities

God promised us,

A new heaven

A new earth

And for the Creator to walk with us,

And for we, as God’s children,

To be in communion

With Jesus Christ,

Whose birth we wait for

Because suddenly,

The world as we know it,

Will change

God has not forsaken any of us

Because of LOVE ETERNAL.

(pause)

Thanks Be to God.

Reforming/Transforming

Grace and Peace to you beloved,

St. Catherine of Siena challenges us-

“Be whom God means us to be,

And we will set the world on fire!”

We emerge from the ashes of our longing,

Our lamenting

Into the light of Proclamation

Of the power of the Creator’s Love,

And the One who shatters Doubt,

Darkness

And Death,

Because we have life everlasting,

Through Jesus Christ,

Our Savior and Lord,

Amen.

(pause)

 

The days are surely coming,

says the Lord,

when I will make a new covenant

with the house of Israel

and the house of Judah”

And even yes,

With the Lutherans

(pause)

“It will not be like the covenant

that I made with their ancestors”

Or with Luther

Or with Melachon

Or Bonhoeffer

“But this is the covenant

that I will make with all of them

says the Creator

 I will put my law within them

and I will write it on their hearts;

 and I will be their God,

 and they shall be my people.”

(pause)

This new covenant

That the Creator God promises all of us

To never leave us,

Nor forsake us

And Giving US

Eternal LIFE,

As people of faith,

We agree

That THIS covenant

Remains embedded within who we are

The Good News is echoed here,

In Jeremiah

And because of what ultimately seals this covenant

The presence of the One,

Who walks with us

We are assured

That

REGARDLESS,

Regardless,

We are forgiven,

What replaces the shame and guilt and darkness

Heaped on us

Is God’s GRACE

(pause)

And yet,

As siblings in Christ,

We stumble over how to

Live into that covenant

Because if we are truthful

We restrict the access

That God has in our lives

Because that means,

Abandoning the selfishness steeped into our spirit

Giving up of the stubbornness

Taking Jesus’s hand

As Jesus leads US

Into the PURPOSE

Into our Assignment

From God

(pause)

Luther’s call

Was to Reform the Wider Church

Our call now,

Is to Transform

This Wider Church

(pause)

That means

Not clinging to the historical,

And the abstract

From 500 years ago

But being faithful

And living out the Reformation

RIGHT NOW

(pause)

Stories,

Are sacred testimonies

Binding one another

To this faith journey

When people come through the doors

Of this Wider Church

We are shocked to hear,

How sometimes grace-less

Other faith traditions can be

How unfulfilling of an environment

They create

And so we get the pilgrims

Wandering

Searching

For a sense of peace.

(pause)

Just over the weekend I saw a sign

On a Reformed Church in Munster

“Get the Bread of Life,

Or your toast.”

(pause)

Last time I checked

That is not what the Good News

That Jesus Christ shared and proclaimed

To His Disciples,

To US

Jesus says,

“So if the makes you free,

You will be free indeed.”

(pause)

My own faith journey,

Is that I emerged from a stagnant faith tradition

Where it seemed

There was this concentration

On works righteousness

On our lives as only sinners

With no grace

With this disconnect from the world

And only uplifting,

This theology of self-preservation

For a life thereafter

(pause)

Where I felt,

I had no right to question God

Or God’s existence,

And where God

Would surely

Impact my living in horrific ways

Because,

By all accounts

I am nothing more than a Sinner

(pause)

We joke so much,

In the wider expression

Of the Lutheran Church,

About sitting in the back

But I would find myself there

I would purposely place myself there

Because for me,

I had not EARNED THE RIGHT

To sit at the front of the Church

In front of the altar of God,

And when I was in the front

In those rare times,

I was Petrified

And there have been many others,

Who I have encountered

Who feel the same way,

That none of us were worthy

Enough

To be a part of the Body of Christ!

(pause)

And yet,

That afternoon of my ordination

There was a JOY!

I wanted to lay down in front of the altar

Because Jeremiah rang in my ears

Here was this NEW COVENANT

AMPLIFED INMY LIFE

HERE is where Jesus Christ spoke to ME

HERE WAS THE TRUTH

HERE

Is where I felt I was finally REDEEMED

WORTHY

Even though,

I knew as we all do,

Every day is a day of thanksgiving

And

Forgiveness!

(pause)

Because see,

Among all others

Only Jesus Christ,

Only the Creator God

Has the RIGHT to JUDGE US

We don’t!

And we should not JUDGE OTHERS

Instead of condemning with His Word

He teaches us with a WORD

 “If you continue in my word,

you are truly my disciples;

and you will know the truth,

and the truth will make you free”

And the Good News is,

JESUS CHRIST LOVES US

FREES US

And because of this Freedom,

We are CALLED to GO OUT

And actually LIVE OUT OUR FAITH

Professing, Proclaiming,

Teaching,

Advocating

Lifting our voices,

Journeying with others,

Wherever

However

That should be.

(pause)

So many ways that WE can be a GIFT

A RESOURCE

To this Broken world.

And it will not be perfect!

We will screw up!

We will fail,

BUT

Because we have been SET FREE

We get UP

And we do it again,

REGARDLESS

Because we are BELOVED

And we are CALLED

TO SET THIS WORLD ON

TRANSFORMATIVE FIRE

Thanks Be to God.

 

Morning Poetry: #decolonizeGodsName

Wars launched
Lives extinguished
at the sound of God’s Name
People destroyed
Tribes torn
All invoked in God’s name
Damage done
Souls wrenched
We are not living into
God’s name
Conquered lives
Conquered bodies
Because of the use of God’s name
#NODAPL
#BlackLivesMatter
And you can’t hear God’s name
Hostile takeover
Hostile deportation
All in God’s name
And yet,
We ignore
We ridicule
The power
of Transformation
and
Healing
in
God’s name
While God weeps
God waits
for the restoration
of
God’s

Name.

 

#decolonizeLutheranism

Grace and Peace to you Beloved,

We confess as broken people

That we are so enraptured in our own righteousness

Attached to doctrines and dogmas

Instead of the living Word of God

That we have for so long ignored the invisible

Crying over again for Jesus to “Save our Church”

Instead of clinging to our Faith,

Embedded deeply in the roots of the Word,

The Word which is Jesus

And lamenting,

“What have we done?”

And asking,

“What can we do?”

Amen.

This Gospel,

There is so much paradox in this Word

Right here.

Because,

Let’s face it

We are always slamming the Pharisee

every time they come up in our lectionary

We belittle them-

“How could they be so rude!

Disrespectful!

Questioning Jesus!

Thank God we’ve learned our lesson

And we are not like them!”

Well,

I have a confession to make

(When I was in my second year of Seminary, I spent time in the midst of what we call Ministry in Context or our teaching parish at Prince of Peace Lutheran in Chicago Heights, The Pastor there referred to his interns his “minions” and there was the air of smugness at our roles being heightened with importance because we were experiencing church, liturgically, “in the right way.” We are talking high church: smells, bells, how to genuflect and when and where; I was engrossed in high liturgical orthodoxy. And yes, I also confess in that there is something very soothing about ritual, sacred ritual that brings joy deep within-speaking to how my people, my Ancestors-for them, ritual was everything in daily life. When I went off to my internship year, that church definitely did not do any high church anything and in fact, my internship supervisor understandably had his own impressions, with much humor And so, I rebelled! I tried to incorporate where I had utmost control during those three months my supervisor was on sabbatical, high church liturgy with the director of Music as my accomplice. I returned back to Chicago and continued this role of “minion” , being privileged to be a part of many a Synod worship service; being a part of the liturgical in-crowd”

So I confess,

I have been that Pharisee.

Can we all confess,

We have been that Pharisee?

Because,

Let’s face it-

The Pharisees were indeed,

Religious

Deeply entrenched into their religious tradition.

They remained in the temple,

Always,

Memorized the laws

Could quote sacred text

Scripture,

The Bible.

They were the ones who went to study at the feet of the Rabbi,

Went to university and got their Bachelor’s in Religion

Their Master’s in Biblical Studies

And their Ph.D in Old Testament Studies, concentrating on Exodus

Everything in the way they lived,

Was parallel to the LAWS

They were the go to people

when the rabbi was not available to teach

Or the pastor not able to conduct Bible Study

They were the ones always in the libraries

And were the first to get the mobile app

of the Augsburg Confessions

(by the way, that is not a thing, ya’ll)

They felt as if they were being dedicated to the faith,

That had taught them

(pause)

Aren’t some of those the same qualities we expect in our own leaders

In this church?

That we expect them to tool around with the Book of Concord

And a worn copy of St. Augustine’s

We want to ensure that our children know

Luther’s small catechism backwards and forwards?

That we want to be by the book good Lutherans?

Which then orders our steps for daily living?

(pause)

But when,

Our own doctrines

Dogmas

Laws

Keep

US

From serving those that Jesus calls us to serve,

Then,

That ain’t right.

(pause)

(Tell the story about Tuhnia and her experience as a Woman of Color and Hindu descent, serving in this church-and being not afraid to be called a sinner, like one of those tax collectors, because she decided that God, and the Risen Christ calls her to profess and proclaim a Gospel for those oppressed. When she goes back to her alma mater seminary to preach and does such-and because she pushes the envelope, using the GOSPEL, USING God’s WORD, as the vehicle that we as followers of Christ should be serving those people made INVISIBLE by the Church and a BISHOP, an ELCA BISHOP refuses to take Communion from her? Oh yes, the path to being a Bishop-say all the right things in Seminary and agree with Lathrop and the standard Lutheran   about how things should be done, and meet all the right people and do all the right things, moving through the ranks until your name is lifted high and you finally achieve that goal of being a BISHOP.)

I thought the whole point of being in the midst of God,

In this sacred space

Was to lift up to God our praise

And our lament,

“God,

Be merciful to me,

A sinner”

(pause)

Because see,

When you follow everything by the book,

Then your life will be easy.

And then,

When you are out in the midst of life’s journey,

And you come across someone

who is dragging their whole self in the street

Begging

Weeping

Caught up in the darkness

You smile that false smile,

And say quietly to yourself

“Thank GOD…”

Or perhaps,

“There by the Grace of God, go I”

Or even

Your voice is mixed with the Pharisee,

“God I thank you I am not like other people,”

Thieves,

Ex-Felons

Drug Addicts

Or even

These protesters who are out here making all this noise

About justice

About rights of those who are struggling in bad mortgages

And immigrants who are failing in a red tape visas system

And voting rights for everyone;

These people protesting and interrupting

Churchwide Assembly

Bringing up ridiculous motions and resolutions

about the Doctrine of Discovery

And more visibility of those who are LGBTQA

And of African Descent

And divesting any further from Israel

When all they need to be doing is being faithful to prayer

And trying to get more people into the pews

And telling people they should except

Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior”

(pause)

Why was it okay for Luther to act a complete fool,

And call the wider Church out,

And suddenly it would be passe for us to do it now.

I thought we were followers of Christ,

I thought we were baptized in CHRIST’S NAME

And not Luther’s.

(pause)

We miss what is important in this text,

Because Jesus never condemns the Pharisee,

And see that is Good News,

Because Jesus Christ loves US

Even when we get self-righteous

And stuck on ourselves-

“Jesus also told this parable to some,

Who trusted in themselves

That THEY were righteous

And regarded others with contempt”

How often have we told our children,

When we are driving past a scene,

Where the cops are arresting someone,

Or

Watching programs like

Intervention

And the First 48

And

Scared Straight,

Or in our own neighborhoods,

When we see people associated with the wrong crowd,

Like this tax collector

Do we tell our children,

“You need to live RIGHT

Otherwise you are going to end up like this-

So thank God that you are not like..them.”

That we identify them BY THEIR SIN

Instead of seeing brokenness,

Pain

(slight pause)

Instead of,

Radically living into our call and purpose

That the Creator gives us,

By saying

“God,

How can I be a resource for others?

Give me the opportunity,

To journey,

To be

To be a part of the transformational change

That you call us TO!”

(pause)

And that does not mean

That we are praising those

Whose behavior is questionable!

Jesus did not praise the tax collector,

Because the Pharisee was still righteous

But the tax collector leaves,

Knowing they have been heard,

Knowing they have been justified

Knowing that they have been FORGIVEN

“This man went down to his home justified

rather than the other;

for all who exalt themselves will be humbled,

but all who humble themselves will be exalted”

Luther set out to reform the Wider Church

500 years later,

we are called to transform the Wider Church.

We are not losing anything that we have come in with,

we are gaining knowledge

from every nook and cranny

of this global society.

We are not losing what it means to be Lutheran

or what guides our steps,

which comes from Romans

-what separates us from the rest is that we are

SAVED by GRACE through FAITH!

When people come through the Wider Church’s doors,

they don’t have to prove themselves

-because we all know

we come from the Creator God!

We don’t have to prove ourselves worthy from Baptism;

we are born from,

and our souls are filled with Holy Breath

from the Creator God!

(pause)

The Good News is

Jesus Christ stands with those

who are

Oppressed

Marginalized

Forgotten

Left in those leper colonies

and we are CALLED

to TRANSFORM the WIDER CHURCH

INTO LOVE EVERLASTING!

Thanks Be to God.

 

Who Runs the World? Women, Widows

 

Women have always been at the center

Of Revolution

Even when,

They were ignored

I laughed with some realization over the weekend,

Of my Sermon title

Was inspired by Beyonce.

(Pause)

And yet,

Because of that song,

I am reminded,

Of the many ground breaking transformative

Revolutions

Happening today,

Are because of women.

Malala Yousafzai, fighting for education

and against the Taliban

She is living our her Faith

She refuses to be silent

(pause)

Leymah Gbowee, fighting for equality for all women

And against the oppression of patriarchy

In many parts of Africa

She is living out her Faith

She refuses to be silent

(pause)

Alica, Patrisse and Opal.

Three names you may not know

But these three queer Women of Color

Are fighting for basic human and civil rights

And against the brutality of the least of these

By forming the #BlackLivesMatter

They are living out their purpose and Faith

They refuse to be silent.

So I cannot fathom,

Why this well ordered society

Would choose to judge,

Ridicule

Abandon

Women

In times of strife,

Struggle,

And Sorrow

When they most need us.

(pause)

I had never experienced the depth of pain

Or sorrow

That a woman experiences

Losing her mate

Until I walked with my mentor, Cheryl

When Papa Pete passed last year.

And Cheryl,

Perhaps like many other women who wear this mantle of widowhood

She was lucky,

Because not only was there this global grieving for Pete

There was this outpouring of care,

That surrounded and enfolded Cheryl

Even this week,

As Pete was posthumously awarded a Lifetime Service Award

At LSTC

The accolades, and the love continued to pour out.

(pause)

Sometimes, however

Not all women,

Who become widows

Experience the same love and care

Sometimes

For whatever reason,

They are abandoned by the community,

As seemed to be the practice in these ancient times

In Jesus’s time

Widows,

Lost much more than the love of their lives

Their partner and mate in all things,

It almost meant a death sentence for a woman

They suddenly were without status

Without protection

Without freedom

Without rights

And there was no advocate

No voice for them.

They were vulnerable

In a society

Who did not see the value,

Nor any responsibility to care for these widows

(pause)

But this widow,

In our Gospel text this morning

Will not be silenced

This widow stands

As an example

To other widows

Who suffer loss

Because of injustice

(pause)

“I have a baby to put in the ground,

She wasn’t my convict

She wasn’t my suspect

She was my baby

Once I put this baby in the ground

I’m ready,

This means war.”

(pause)

Sandra Bland’s mother,

Has not stopped working for justice,

Wherever she goes

Calling into question

The policies

The regulations

Of those who are called to serve the people

She lives out her Faith,

She has a voice

She is a baptized beloved child of the Creator God

Will we judge her, and not listen?

(pause)

“Then that little man in black there,

He says women can’t have as much rights as men

Cause Christ wasn’t a woman!

Where did your Christ come from?

Where did your Christ come from?

From God and a woman!

Man had nothing to do with Him,

With Jesus Christ

(pause)

Sojourner Truth,

Even as a slave

Refused to be silent

And lived out her call,

Proclaiming the atrocities

Against her people

She lived out her Faith

She had a voice

She was a baptized beloved child of the Creator,

Even now,

Why do we criticize?

Gloss over her very deep, faith wrenching words

Why do we belittle,

Attempt to erase,

Her boldness,

And others like her

Who chose to lean on their Faith

And speak out against such atrocities?

Why do we refuse to listen

Against the cries for justice?

(pause)

Widows,

Are not just without husbands,

They are without community

Without privileges

Without power

One of my beloved colleagues and friends,

A Pastor of this Church,

In Baltimore

Tweeted yesterday that,

We live in a society

that makes excuses

for the unjust judge

Demonizing the widow

for seeking justice

in the first place.

This is the truth we are unfortunately living,

Right now,

Women

Our very being,

Our rights

Our beloved selves

Are interrogated

Refuted

Because regardless of our status,

We cannot be muted

In the face of the unjust

Especially unjust judges,

Who,

“neither feared God nor had respect for people”

And this woman,

This unnamed widow in our Gospel text,

Was not going to accept

The word

NO.

She was not going

To stay in a place

Where others decided she belonged

Because it made them, comfortable

Rejecting the stagnant well-ordered society

That allowed the outcasts

To be cast aside,

Once they were drained

Of their usefulness

(pause)

We are not sure what she was fighting for

“Grant me justice against my opponent”

Or perhaps who she was fighting for

Or who she was standing for

But she was always a presence

In that unjust judges space,

In that courtroom

In front of his dwelling

On the street

Grant me justice against my opponent

This widow,

Was TIRED

of story after story

of injustice that permeated her days and nights

And refused

To give up

“Did you want to see me broken,

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders fallen down like teardrops

Weakened by my soulful cries?”

And because Maya Angelou,

Refused to be silent

Spoke within her Faith

Speaks for many women who were

Beaten

Battered

Spoke against the VIOLENCE

And all they had was their WORDS

And they KNEW CHRIST STOOD with the OPPRESSED

So

WITH ONE VOICE

THEY PROCLAIM

But because of JESUS,

I RISE.

(pause)

The Good News of Jesus Christ is that,

What carried this widow

To face the persecution,

Was not just her strength

But it was the presence of Jesus Christ

It was her FAITH!

It wasn’t her commitment to her community,

Or those who stood with her

It was because of the GRACE of the Creator God!

It wasn’t the organizing

Or the right words,

Because all of this flowed from her

Because God stood with her

“And will not God grant justice

to his chosen ones

who cry to him

day and night?”

(pause)

And beloved,

The Good News of Jesus Christ,

Is that Christ hears our prayers,

When we are crawling,

Scraping our knees

Blinded by our tears

Afraid because this world batters us

Christ stands with us,

REGARDLESS OF WHO WE ARE

Or how we have struggled with swimming

In the waters of Faith

Or how the world has proclaimed us

Useless

Because of our perceived sins

CHRIST SPEAKS A WORD!

Christ touches us,

Christ LOVES US!

(pause)

And because we are LOVED,

Christ teaches us

The power

Of PRAYER!

Prayer moves,

Transforms

Restores

US!

(pause)

Even more so,

I think,

The power of prayer

From Women-

A Woman prayed for me,

Had me on her mind,

Took the time to pray for me,

I’m so glad she prayed

I’m so glad she prayed

I’m so glad she prayed

For me.

Thanks Be to God

O Lord, How Long? Lament from the Prophets

Grace and Peace to you, beloved

If we follow the One,

Who shatters death

Who picks us up from the gate

Who transforms this world,

Then we cannot afford to be

The stumbling blocks

In each other’s lives

Instead our faith should be scattered

Like a mustard seed

So that it grows in the wilderness

Spreading Love, Mercy

And Forgiveness

Amen.

 Luke 3:4 proclaims

A voice of one calling in the wilderness

That voice cries out their testimony

Shares their witness

Striving to live out their faith.

(pause)

But what happens,

When no one hears,

People turning their whole selves away

Our own voices registering to their hearing as strained and muffled

Refusing to acknowledge and experience

The transforming power of the Good News

(pause)

Left vacant

The wilderness seemingly overwhelms us

And we are helpless to do nothing,

But emit a primal scream.

Collectively,

For my fellow sisters and brothers in Seminary,

The journey towards a deeper theological and spiritual understanding

Grew to be exasperating at times

Not only because of the normal burdens

Of paperwork for Candidacy

Or papers never ending

Or projects mounting

But because suddenly we were alone

Isolated

From the same communities which had sent us off

To this journey of Seminary

We were shocked!

The reality of their immunity to our dancing,

Singing,

Praising

About how the Gospel broke down walls,

And filled our hearts.

(pause)

They did not want to hear,

The restoring promises of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

They did not want to be faced with the truths

Of Liberation

Of Freedom

Because that would mean,

They would be forced

To wrench themselves away

From their comfortable places

At those golden altars they had been building

In reverence to doctrines

And Dogmas

(pause)

Our voices adrift

In an unforgiving,

Unfamiliar

Atmosphere

To where

God

Could not hear

The cries

Of God’s people

Even now

My soul is overcome

By this new religion

And theology

Of VIOLENCE!

(pause)

Violence against the innocent-

Especially those blinded by their own demons,

That lash out against love as their loved ones try to hold on

Trapped by their shackles of mental anguish

Pointing to a system,

Which disregards the stewardship of life,

The accountability

That the Creator God commanded us to have

For one another

(pause)

Violence against those in the community-

Especially those tolling hard on the front lines,

Those working towards restorative justice

And yet violence invades these sacred spaces

Blinded by a system

That refuses to acknowledge its culpability

In the destruction of the people, and their life.

(pause)

Violence against those who serve,

Those who work without thanks,

Without praise

Trying to build a bridge

Trying to be ambassadors

Because the system failed,

And abandoned them,

Leaving them to bear the brunt

And navigating a broken people,

On their own

(pause)

Violence against Black and Brown and Red bodies

Simply because they swallowed the propaganda

Created by a corrupt and devious system

Spoon feeding them to the idea

That these sacred bodies,

With the reflection of the ONE

Who was also a Sacred body,

That these sisters and brothers in Christ

Are somehow less than

(pause)

Violence against the very gift,

We take granted

Day after day,

Of Creation itself!

Thinking it will automatically replenish

Forgetting our misuse this land

Or hoard minerals,

Blocking off water rights,

Robbing Creation selfishly of its resources

Because somehow the system

Declares us the dominant force

(pause)

On most days, it feels as if

All I want to do

Is to go out into Creation

And scream myself

WHY

WHY

“How long, Lord, must I call for help,

    but you do not listen?

Or cry out to you, “Violence!”

    but you do not save?”

(pause)

God,

Seems to be absent

Neglectful

And we,

Just as the prophet in Habakkuk (Hab-bu-kuck)

Felt forsaken,

Rejected

(pause)

The unnamed prophet,

Is rightfully angry

Complaining

Questioning God

Her prayers are not answered

Her cries are unheeded

In this prophets time,

Of 7th Century BCE

The Israelites are under the rule

Of the occupiers

The Babylonians,

The Israelites perhaps experienced a state of confusion,

And desertion

The Babylonians forced upon them,

Assimilation.

Assimilating both culturally and spiritually

Demanding that they deny themselves,

Violating their sacred bodies,

Through economic and physical oppression

Does this sound familiar?

We as humanity sometimes do not learn the lessons,

From the mistakes of the past

(pause)

And yet,

The people of God

Created that chiasm,

Separating themselves

From the presence of the Creator God

Because

Of their selfishness,

Their actions,

Their neglect

Of those outside the gate

Clinging to laws,

That had nothing to do with Faith.

(pause)

Doesn’t it appear as

Our own actions

Mirror those

Of these ancestors?

We have failed in being

Good stewards

Of one another

And so the abyss

Grows

Deeper still

We forget whose we are

And we allow ourselves to slip

Into a coma like state

(pause)

“Therefore the law is paralyzed,

    and justice never prevails.

The wicked hem in the righteous,

    so that justice is perverted.”

The prophet in Habakkuk, (Hab-bu-kuck)

Besides herself,

That the collective community,

Disrupted the opening and the rushing in,

Of the Holy Spirit

That instead of fighting a common enemy,

They seemed to be fighting themselves

“It would be better for you

if a millstone were hung around your neck

and you were thrown into the sea

than for you to cause one of these

little ones to stumble”

These verses which are here in Luke 17,

But not included in our Gospel this morning,

Echo the frustrations perhaps,

Of the prophet in Habakkuk, (Hab-bu-kuck)

And are magnified as a warning,

From Jesus Christ

Sometimes,

We

Are

The

Stumbling

Block.

The wicked

Sometimes

Look

Like

Us.

(pause)

It’s not just as simple

That because we have lack of faith,

Or our hands are empty of faith,

Or even we do not practice what we preach,

But this unwillingness

To Forgive!

And we know as people of faith,

This is HARD

TO

FORGIVE!

And we’re not talking something as easy

For sins committed

But that our smugness

Self-assured in our righteousness

In orthodoxy

That somehow know

God

So therefore,

Forgiving,

Welcoming

Being in community with those,

Whose beliefs,

Lifestyle

Or how they connect with God

Just because it differs from us,

Somehow

We don’t have to accept them!

We can be dismissive

We use the doctrine of justification to alienate ourselves

To practice prejudice

And bigotry

(pause)

We cling to dogma

As Truth

Instead of the Gospel,

The Good News,

Which proclaims

An uncomfortable TRUTH

That because of Jesus Christ,

Our Savior and Lord

ALL

Were created

ALL are forgiven

(pause)

And yet

This is why

We,

Beloved,

Children of the Creator God

Cling to Jesus Christ,

The One who gathers us in His Hands,

And breathes NEW LIFE,

EVEN into

Dry seeds,

EVEN when we are discarded by others,

Because the perception is,

Nothing good could come from us

(pause)

We cling to Jesus

And cry out in that wilderness

“Increase our FAITH!”

Jesus,

We are trying!

Jesus,

What else can we do?

Jesus

Do not forget us

Jesus,

We are willing

(pause)

And this increasing of our faith,

Goes beyond having this faith,

Like a mustard seed

We must be open,

Remembering our baptism

And why we are called to a PURPOSE!

Our faith does not have to be huge,

BUT IT DOES HAVE TO GROW

Our work,

Our goals,

Our commitment to God,

Our FAITH will BLOSSOM!

But we have to TRUST GOD

Allowing GOD to nurture,

Direct us,

Even when we are in the midst of transforming

Watching our faith develop

Into something beautiful

And we go “God, its supposed to look like that? Okay!”

(pause)

The Good News is beloved,

When we,

As children of God,

As precious seeds

Have been left out in the wilderness,

Because we have been stamped worthless,

And food for scavengers

The Good News of Jesus Christ,

Is that GOD sends the healing Waters of Rain,

Washing us,

Fueling us

Giving US LIFE

Watch us GROW!

Thanks Be to God.