What Are We To Do Now? (July 12 sermon)

What is this book? What is Scripture? What’s its use to us, what’s its place in our faith and in our life? 

Is it a set of origin myths? Not to be taken as real, but as beautiful stories and analogies to truth. They’re just telling us the history of humanity in the form of story; story is, of course, one of the most powerful tools of communication throughout time. 

Or maybe the point of Scripture is to name and detail the heroes of faith. Like the stories of Roman and Greek and Norse gods, their exploits, their accomplishments, their foibles, and how, through their leadership and formation, the world came to be as it is. 

Is Scripture, perhaps, a moral code, a compass for humanity, gathered up over thousands of years, comprising the “best practices” the greatest wisdom that humanity has been able to come up with over ages?

I do not believe that the Bible is any of these things, or, that it is limited to being any of these things. Scripture is full of misfits; there is not one hero among them. Nobody was born in the right lineage, no one was full of courage, not one was wise with wealth or power of prestige. None of the patriarchs or the characters we know had any kind of squeaky-clean character. Not one. Fight me. 

But that’s exactly the point. Scripture is not about human superheroes. The Bible is not a moral code to keep us hemmed in. The point of Scripture, from the first verse, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” to the last, “the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” This book is about Yahweh. About the Almighty God. About the power of the universe, and his revelation of himself, and his love for and relationship with humanity. 

So it is in this context, this spirit, that these Words come to us today. Drops of manna, of nourishing bread, from the mouth of the Lord God, creator, redeemer, sustainer himself. 

Brothers and sisters it is hot, so the message this morning is short and it is simple.

 I don’t know of one person on the face of the earth whose plans for 2020 have not taken a detour. things are not shaping up the way that we thought, and that’s a lesson not only this year but one that we have surely experienced throughout our lives and will do so again. No one plans on divorce. No one expects cancer. No one is prepared to lose their income or their home or their family network. In ways big and in ways small, we face jarring disappointments, frustrating deviations, and dizzying changes every single day. We see through the parable of the sower, at least, that this is nothing new, and perhaps less comfortingly, that change and variability is a constant in earthly life. 

Paired with this parable which promises upset and unpredictability, the lesson from the prophet Isaiah, declares one thing in which humanity and history and all creation can trust: that God’s will cannot be thwarted. Giving voice to God, Isaiah says definitively that God’s purposes, God’s plan, God’s words, will absolutely be accomplished. There is nothing that will come in his way, nothing that can divert him, nothing that might squash him, no way to stymie the Lord of Hosts. 

We see this message threaded through the Gospel passage, too. Despite the sower who casts willy-nilly, and the seeds which land in places unfit for growth, the harvest of God goes forward, and it is miraculously abundant. God gives the growth. It may not be the way we imagined, and it may look different than we thought God’s will would, but we have assurance throughout all of Scripture, and indeed, I would wager, testimonies of assurance sprinkled throughout your own lives. 

There’re a lot of things — most things, I suspect we’ve found — that’re out of our control. There’s very little that we can do to shift the course of history, and only a bit more we can do to shift the course of our own lives. 

Brothers and Sisters, this is a comfort. This truth is a freedom — we haven’t got much of any power anyway, so we might as well do what we can and leave the rest alone. 

One of my favorite psalms says, “I do not concern myself with things too great for me.” It is one I pray often, because it is something that I have a hard time following. 

I have seen over and over in the last months, and continue to have presented to me on a silver platter of uncertainty each day, that we do not know what the future will bring. 

The virus is moving more rampantly across our state, and soon it will be time for school to start again — but what will that look like? We have both students and teachers in our midst, we have working parents and we have those who live alone, who are desperate for contact, for companionship. We are, all of us, stretched to our limits. 

And while I have seen the response of some of my friends, saying, “How can you believe in a God who would let something like this happen?” I have seen all the more in my own life my need and desire for the companionship and the security of the unflumoxable God, the Almighty God, creator of all, revealed in Scripture, made man in Jesus Christ, indwelling in the Holy Spirit. 

As we’ve been reading Jeremiah this month, the hard truths keep landing — the consequences of sin and disobedience weigh heavy, with little relief. But again and again we see in Jeremiah the same thing that we see prophesied in Isaiah, and that is revealed in the parable of the sower: This God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, this God revealed in Jesus Christ, this God who is the bridegroom of the church, whose image is stamped on each human life, whose love alone conquers death, whose kingdom will prevail, is unstoppable. He will accomplish that which he has set out to do, and he will bring all nations to himself, and he will be with you and me, and every living thing till the end of the age. 

Amen. 

Juneteenth

The dismantling of racism in one’s own heart, mind, and life, is a continual project. It never ends. There’s no finish line till you die and — I believe — God pulls the scales from your eyes in front of his Judgment seat (Lord, have mercy upon us). We are never fully relieved of the sin of racism until we are made perfect on the other side of the grave. This is true of all our sins — we are never made perfectly patient or perfectly kind or courageous or loving, etc etc. But who would argue that if we cannot achieve perfection in being anti-racist, we should just not even try? Nobody. Nobody ought argue that.

So I offer a small snapshot of my own journey on this Juneteenth, praying that this might be as a twig on the fire of anti-racism in our country.

I had never heard of this day till I moved to Texas. In a way, it makes sense, I guess, because it’s a Texas-centric event, but because this territory was the last holdout of enslavement in the United States after the Emancipation Proclamation, it is unassailably a date of immense importance to the history of justice, equality, and freedom in our entire nation.

It didn’t have to do with me — white girl from the Midwest — so I didn’t know, and I didn’t care.

Then I started ministering at a mixed-race church. St. Augustine’s is black (40%), white (50%), Asian (5%), and Hispanic (5%), and cultural humility is the sun salutation I try to remember to practice each and every day. The people of this church are immensely gracious, and while Juneteenth was mentioned in conversation and I could tell it was hallowed, it was veiled by my ignorance.

The first summer that Juneteenth came around, it was a strange piece of Americana. “What an interesting story! Huh. News traveled so slowly back there in the 1800s! Silly!”

The second summer that Juneteenth came around here, it was something I knew I should know something about. “Oh yes. A grave day. Hmm. We should uh, remember that.”

[The third summer, I’ll be honest, I was 36 weeks pregnant and the heaviest I’ve ever been and in 90 degree temps with a toddler. There wasn’t much awareness of anything.]

And today. I’ve been thinking about Juneteenth coming all month, turning its bittersweetness over and over in my mind, trying to imagine what it means and holds and looks like and feels to my black brothers and sisters, but I know I’ve been thinking about it because of George Floyd’s public murder, and protests to racism and police brutality, and adjusting my instagram follows. But here I am, white lady priest in a blessedly diverse congregation of the faithful, trying to keep myself uncomfortable for the sake of the Gospel.

I wonder whether the planation owners — enslavers — really didn’t know for 18 months that slavery was outlawed (I suspect they damned well knew, and just got away with what they could. Because that’s what I’ve seen humans do. We get away with what we can). What did freedom look like and mean when it finally came? And has it, in the ensuing 150 years, really “finally come”?

Sin is easy because it’s comfortable. It’s often The Most Comfortable thing to do. What’s uncomfortable is educating yourself, sitting next to people whose skin (and income and upbringing and culture and life) is not like yours and listening. Actively listening. Listening with humility. Letting the listening make you uncomfortable, challenging your boundaries and your suppositions and your perspective, and then deciding to give into the transformation that listening and discomfort invites.

Habits don’t change overnight. We must choose and work at our habits and our racism every single day to start to chip away at the sin that clings so closely (Hebrews 12:1). It has taken years, and death, and unrest, and a faithful community, for me to start to ingest the importance of Juneteenth. To start to ask questions and to bring this holy-day into my life and imagination and practice.

This is the Gospel. That Jesus, God crucified and raised, calls all people, all nations, to himself. That God made all humanity free and equal and precious in his sight. That all people are called to see the indwelling Spirit (ru’ah) of God in one another.

Jesus opens wide his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that ALL may come within the reach of his saving embrace.

God, so clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.

Pentecost

preached at St. Augustine’s Oak Cliff, May 31, 2020. First in-person service since March 8; outside

Acts 2:1-21

John 20:19-23

“All together in one place” — but we’re not all together. George Floyd isn’t here. Breonna Taylor isn’t here. Ahmaud Arbery isn’t here. Elnora’s Momma isn’t here — she’s died and gone to heaven, my friend Mike Boone isn’t here — he died in his sleep this past week at 35. And plenty more of our own stay at home to stay alive. 

The mystery of this passage. Will we all be together in one place again?

Millennials: We Are the Disease

60259806223__BECF2682-C7EC-42B4-B35C-C020C3A2A276

Maybe the whole generational divide thing is just an invention to create angst. Maybe the Boomer-versus-Millennial trope is false.

But one of the comments I’ve seen around those sorts of arguments in the last few years is that Millennials have a chance to be the next Greatest Generation. It sounds good, doesn’t it? I want to be known as part of a group who were awesome, like my great-grandparents! I bear my great-grandma’s name (Rose), and of everyone in my family, my mom can’t stop talking about my great-grandpa, Tony. They even lived long enough (both of them, to over 100) for me to get to know them pretty well. And they lived small, and lived faithful, and lived well. They lived a lot of sacrifice, and they lived a lot of love, and they lived a lot of tough times. 

So, here’s the thing, Millennials. We can’t just slide into being Great. We can’t just trip into the DMs of history. 

Continue reading