Why I Didn’t Preach About Saturday


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I wanted to preach today about the newest big thing to happen – but I wasn’t able to do it.  I wanted to preach because I was frustrated and angry about yesterday’s events – and I wanted my soapbox time.  I wanted to preach because Facebook told me that if I didn’t preach about it, then my people should start looking for another church.  I wanted to preach about it because this, THIS, was what I was called to do.

But I wasn’t able to say one word about it.  It just wasn’t the right time or place.

For over two years I have been working with the Methodist pastor and the Lutheran pastor here in town as we seek to build relationships between our churches and move forward in meaningful ministry – together.  It’s working for us.  Slowly…it’s working.

And today – today, was our first ecumenical outdoor worship together.  Actually it was just the Methodist church and the UCC church, but it was another layer in an already good foundation.  We had planned big – well – big for us.  And everything was ready to go.

The sermon was all worked out, and the beauty was that we spent maybe two hours on it and it was done.  It was a very thoughtful sermon, one that had been carefully culled for landmines, yet also one that addressed a difficult topic.  It was heady stuff for a picnic, but it was also a message of real hope.

And then yesterday happened.

Saturday.

That Saturday where a bunch of white supremacist terrorists decided to unhood and unleash.

Saturday happened all day.  It was painful to watch, and like everyone else, I couldn’t turn away.  I actually turned on my twitter.  Trust me, it has to be pretty big in order for me to turn on my twitter.  The last time I turned on my twitter was during the election, and we all know how that turned out.

Saturday made me angry, and I don’t think I was the only one but I will confess I was deep within my echo chamber. Plenty of people were angry.  Angry and tired.  Black people, white people, Jewish people – lots and lots of angry and tired people.

And I really wanted to preach on it.  But it just couldn’t be.

The sermon we had worked out was a good one.  I like preaching with another person.  Our theme was “A Time to Heal.”  We read Ecclesiastes first and paired it with Romans 8:18-25.  And then we entered into the dialogue about the question of suffering.

Both passages tell us that suffering is built into the fabric of the universe.  I like that description better than God setting us up to suffer for some weird, unknowable reason…And both passages tell us that all the suffering in the world doesn’t compare to the glory that is to be revealed in us.

Suffering is real; it’s part of the deal.  No one escapes suffering, but some sure do suffer more than others.  It’s always been that way.  Long before Jesus, and long afterwards too.  Heck of a thing to bring up at a church picnic, but isn’t it good to know that suffering is real, that it’s not just you, and that there’s hope?

Actually a church picnic is the perfect place to bring up shared suffering because there are a lot of people there.  And moving throughout all those people are sufferers – even at the most delightful of picnics – there are sufferers.  Because at one time or another, everyone suffers.

So Paul touches on suffering in his letter to the Romans, because he knows that they are suffering.  It wasn’t easy being a follower in those days.  Actually it could be quite deadly, and people were probably starting to wonder if it was even worth it.  Paul acknowledges this, and he doesn’t sugar coat it either.  He tells them suffering is part of the deal – that nothing on this planet escapes it – including the planet.

But, is it worth it?  Yes!  It is so worth it.  Because our sufferings are nothing compared to the glory about to be revealed to us.

Ecclesiastes also tells us that suffering is part of the deal, but alongside suffering walks healing, and there is a time for both.

Anyone who’s suffered knows – when healing happens, the suffering suddenly becomes worth it.  When healing happens, we realize that the suffering was the very thing that lead us to that glorious moment.  And then we embrace our suffering – in retrospect.

But here’s the question: can we maybe move ourselves along to that place of healing a little faster?  Because let’s face it, the world is a mess and we’re digging ourselves deeper and deeper into the hole of despair.  Suffering might be part of the equation, but when do we finally throw in the towel and submit to some healing?

If anyone knew suffering, it was Jesus.  Jesus dedicated his whole life the ones who were suffering the most.  He fed them; he healed them; he comforted them, and he taught them about the kingdom of God by praying “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. He taught them that when we are operating out of God’s will, God’s kingdom manifests itself on earth, same as it does in heaven.  In other words, he showed them how to accelerate healing.

And when they asked him what is God will for us, he said love of God and love of neighbor.  Kind of like one commandment with two sides, because we show our love of God through love of our neighbor.

So the way to God’s kingdom is through love.  The way to our own healing is through love.  Nothing more, nothing less, just love.

And all of this is why I didn’t get to preach about Saturday.  All of this is why I didn’t get to get up on my soapbox and talk about how this whole lousy country is built on a flimsy foundation of white privilege and how we need to start opening our eyes and acknowledging our truth if we are to ever find our way toward healing.

Instead I had to preach about love – love of God and love of neighbor – and how that is the only real way to healing.

And you know what?  That congregation managed to put the pieces together for themselves.  They applied our sermon on love to Saturday – in fact, they thought we were preaching about Saturday.

We preached about healing through love, and as it turns out it was the exact message that was needed – for Saturday.

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The Grace of Dark


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Romans 7: 14-15

For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin.  I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 

I have a never-ending fascination with light.  All it takes is one tiny splash of sunlight on something and I can’t stop staring at it.  If I have my camera handy, time ceases to exist as I capture whatever is being graced by the light for as long as the moment will allow.  I especially love it when I encounter a single leaf in the woods touched by a tiny ray of sunlight – I’ll often wonder, now why did that leaf get picked out of all the other leaves?

But – and this is interesting – I am only spellbound by light that is illuminating something that would otherwise be dark.  I am not in love with light for the sake of light, and more light is never better.  A sunny day can be made up of a lot of harsh glare, and in that case the light loses a significant part of its appeal.  So what this tells me is that the best light is light that is defined by darkness, and when shadow and light work together, that is the sweet spot.

We struggle to do better, and to be better people.  Yet sometimes we go dark.  Sometimes we go really, really dark; and it’s scary and perplexing.  We don’t want to do the things we’re doing, but we seem powerless to stop.  We spiral out of control, and like Paul we question, why is this happening?

For me it’s helpful to think of that single leaf in the woods receiving its very own ray of sunshine.  We don’t know why everything goes dark around us sometimes, but I do know that catching a ray of light is about the most grace-filled thing that can happen; and after all is said and done, the confusion of the darkness is worth the grace of the light.

Listen


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Is anyone else reeling in confusion right now?  I am sitting here looking out the window at the most beautiful snow fall I have seen in a long time.  Big puff balls of flakes coming straight down, falling gently…gently falling…  The trees are all heavy-laden; each branch supporting several inches of white creamy frosting, a scene that makes me just want to run outside and hug the universe.  It’s a snow day deluxe!  Schools and businesses are closed, and the world sits quietly, resting, knowing that everything is staying put – for now.

But then I open my news feed.  Why did I open my news feed?  I am confronted by a series of atrocities.  I should be used to this by now.  Not surprisingly, the list is even longer than that of yesterday.  It is only 8:05 in the morning.  Why did I open my news feed?  Today, January 25, 2017, five days after the installation of DJT, and already a whole slew of radical departures from existing policies.  The EPA has been gagged and bound.  Communications blackout for US scientists.  Twitter accounts disabled.  Forward movement with The Great Wall of America.  Forward movement on the Dakota pipeline.  A new voter fraud investigation to be launched – really?  Isn’t winning enough?  The Dow Jones passes 20,000 for the first time in history – some folks are happy…

I went to DJT’s Facebook page.  One of these happy folks wrote: “Trump put a freeze on all new federal regulations, many great nominations, the repeal of Obamacare has begun, along with the pipeline, next is lowering taxes, the wall, getting rid of common core, conservative justices and everything else. Every single day we have something to cheer for. Let’s hear it for our president. ”

I look at my own Facebook wall and it is laden with pain, grief, and anger.

One country, one world, one human race – yet it feels like two alternate realities.  Maybe that’s why “alternate facts” became necessary.  The world has gone batshit bonkers.  It’s as though two dimensions have somehow overlapped.  And we are only in the first half of the first week.

I am a Christian.  I follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.  That is what I believe Christianity is about.  Following the teachings of Jesus Christ.  But from where I’m sitting, it looks as though Christians have divided themselves into two groups of followers going in the opposite direction with each group believing that they are the ones following Jesus while watching the other group go astray.  One world – two realities – each pushing against each other – hard!  One reality sees the ghost of Hitler past rising out of the ashes.  The other reality, the reality of “alternate facts,” see the reinstatement of our great and glorious country.  Both realities believe that we can only occupy one reality.  Both realities are at war with each other.  Neither reality is willing to make room for the other; we have reduced ourselves to an either/or world.

I clearly see the perspective of my own reality, and I can honestly say that I do not believe the other to be faithfully following the teachings of Jesus.  I read the bible, and it’s all right there in front of me: You’re blessed when you’re meek, you’re blessed when you mourn, you’re blessed when you can’t get enough righteousness…you’re blessed when you’re merciful, pure in heart, a peacemaker, and persecuted because you stand up for what is right and what is just.  For me it is as plain as the nose on my face that building walls, closing borders, polluting the planet, and denying food and healthcare to people goes directly against the teachings of Jesus.  For me it is just as plain as the nose on my face that we, as followers of Jesus, are called to stand up, speak out, and push back against any policy that enriches some while crushing others.

But I’ve also been around long enough to know that God’s universe is a both/and universe, and that this either/or world that we are trying to hammer out is going to end badly if we don’t start finding our way toward some sort of unity and wholeness.  I’m all for standing up, speaking out, and pushing back, in the face of injustice, but I am not for running about helter skelter and putting a megaphone on everything that comes across my newsfeed.  I am a pastor; I am called to be a prophetic voice, but I am also called to be a pastoral presence – which means I am called to listen.

Many of us are speaking out.  Many of us are feeling that call to prophetic witness.  But speaking strictly for myself, I know that I have to reign in that impulse sometimes in favor of more facts and greater understanding.  Walls are destructive, but it’s not enough to just protest walls; we have to build bridges.  And in order to do that we need materials and tools that can only be acquired through listening.

I know a lot of people who believe that this is the dawning of a new era of prosperity and abundance for America.  What sort of frustration and fear leads people to believe that purging the country of everyone who is of a different nationality will lead us in the right direction?  What sort of frustration and fear leads people to believe that denying others healthcare is a logical move?  People like DJT fuel and play on those fears – through listening.  Why can’t we build a better world using that same strategy?

So here’s my new strategy.  Listen.  Stand up.  Listen.  Speak out.  Listen.  Push back.  Listen, listen, listen.