Nov. 27th sermon: ‘Wonderful Counselor’

I am bad at posting the text of my sermons — mostly because I don’t usually write a manuscript from which to preach and then post. Plus, I’m convinced that sermons are best experienced when heard, rather than just read.

Here then, is the audio from yesterday’s sermon. My editing talents are limited so there is a little extra material at both the beginning and the end. Go to the four minute mark to hear the beginning of the sermon. Or start at the beginning to hear a bit of a song and the two scripture passages for the day, Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 7:17-23.

However, if reading is preferred over listening, I’ve also posted my notes below. The caveat being that I mostly use them as a guide, meaning what I actually said doesn’t completely match up with what I wrote. I doubt I’ve ever had a sermon completely match in that way. I suspect that’s true for most preachers.

We didn’t have time after the message for discussion in church, so I’d love for this to become a conversation here. So comment, question, and critique away.

”Names for the Messiah: Wonderful Counselor”

We are a country divided. From coast to coast, we have an issue that pits sister against brother; child against parent; even spouses against each other. I am of course talking about…

Properly using commas.

Why, what did you think I was talking about?

“To Oxford Comma, or not to Oxford comma, that is the question.”

I can’t and won’t solve this dilemma today, though if you know much of anything about me you can probably guess in which camp I fall. But for our purposes today, let’s at least acknowledge that comma placement affects the meaning of a sentence.

Here’s an example; notice the difference: “I dedicate this book to my parents, Mark Twain, and God.” OR “I dedicate this book to my parents, Mark Twain and God.”

Comma placement matters. Can we agree upon that?

Here’s why that’s important today:

The key passage for this sermon series, ‘Names for the Messiah”, is, as you might expect, the passage that, you know, names the Messiah: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace

Thanks to Handel’s “Messiah”, we are probably most used to hearing that list as five names: Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, etc.

From Brueggemann:

“The two terms are to be taken together. ‘Counselor” refers to the exercise of governance, the capacity to administer, to plan, to deliver policy.”

‘Wonderful’ may suggest the new king will have great wisdom. Or it may suggest that the plans and policies of the new king will be tremendous and surprising.

Here’s my next controversial statement that’s not actually controversial at all: The prophet Isaiah lived in the 8th century BCE. He was writing about the crowning of a new king of Israel. He was not predicting Jesus of Nazareth, some 800 years later.

The early church read those terrific titles and used them to bear witness to Jesus, connecting the reality of Jesus to the expectation for a Liberating King, a Messiah, to the Hebrew Testament.

So we inherit a tradition that sees these titles in Jesus. And ‘wonderful’ becomes the operative word.

His teaching is ‘wonderful’ because he tells us and shows us that things we think are impossible are actually possible for God. Scriptures tell us Jesus is wise beyond explanation. He open up new possibilities for us. Thus he is a threat to conventional wisdom and conventional power.

The passage from Luke shows just how surprising and unconventional Jesus is. Even his relative, John the Baptizer, the one called to make the way for Jesus, isn’t sure he really is the one! But because of Jesus, the blind see, the lame walk, the sick are healed and the poor have good news.

“The old limits of the possible are frauds designed to keep the powerless in their place.” Jesus exposed this desire of the power order of his day and invited the common people to see that another way was possible, and not just possible but what God actually wants for all people. No wonder the religious and political leaders of his day wanted Jesus dead — he was “teaching them out of their allegiance to the entrenched order!”

Jesus breaks down such conventional wisdom, such as that “wisdom” that says white men should be in authority in order for society to maintain “proper” order.

Make no mistake, conventional wisdom and power are resistant to change; resistant to new possibilities. We’ve seen that in the rise of white nationalism, white supremacy, trying to disguise itself in a new name, “alt-right”, but with the same goals: keep white men at the top of the power structure; at the top of society. These are people who, intentionally or not, feel empowered by this month’s election to come out of the shadows and speak overtly, publicly that all who aren’t straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied Christians don’t belong.

Jesus as Wonderful Counselor means we who strive to follow in His Way must resist racism in all its forms.

Jesus as Wonderful Counselor means we who strive to follow in His Way must resist demonizing and “othering” of all groups of people: no matter their race, no matter their religion, no matter whom they love.

One way we are living this out is through our new Hospitality Statement. What is that statement? Come to Church Conference Dec. 7 to be part of the group that hears, and hopefully, approves this historic document.

Jesus as Wonderful Counselor means another, better way, another better world is POSSIBLE. Not just possible, but is actually what God wants for the world.

We who strive to follow Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor, must be agents of hope, especially for those desperately in need of good news.

We who strive to follow Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor, must be agents of God’s better way that includes ALL people.

That, I am convinced, is our way forward, together. Amen?

What’s next?

“Today and everyday, I will fight hatred with love and kindness.”

It has been, and continues to be, a very difficult week for some of us. Each day since the election, reports of violent words and actions against women, blacks, Muslims, and LGBT folks are (trigger warning for hate speech and language) filling our timelines — including dozens of reports of it happening in schools; happening to children.

I find myself in an unusual position: largely at a loss for words. Words are kinda my thing. It is disconcerting to have them fail me in this time when so many are feeling, well, all the feels: shock, fear, anger, disbelief, victory, emboldened, attacked, or even hopeful. We need wise words to help us organize our thoughts and feelings and to galvanize us into action. So I’m relying on the wise words of others.

Like that quote at the top of the page. Know who said that? A high school student from our church, Woodridge UMC, tweeted it Wednesday.

“Love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Love your enemy and pray for them.” Those are other words I keep going back to.

None of us know what the next four years might bring. We don’t even know what tomorrow will bring. All we have for certain is today. So today we offer love and kindness. If campaign promises of massive deportation, stripping of rights for women and the LGBT community, and banning entire religions come to fruition, it will be up to us as a community (especially the community of faith in Jesus the Liberating King) to respond with love, kindness, and protection.

If campaign tactics of empowering and employing white supremacists (or white nationalists or “alt-right” or whatever else they are calling themselves today) continue, it will be up to us as a community (especially the community of faith in Jesus the Liberating King) to respond with love, kindness, and protection.

Right now, our church building has a beautiful sanctuary. That building may need to become a literal sanctuary. Will we be ready for that?

Here’s another wise tweet from one of our students: “It is easy to hate, it takes strength to be gentle and kind. It is through love that we will get through this, be kind to one another today.”

How might we do that? By saying to any and all — but most especially to the marginalized and the demonized — that this is a safe space. We are here for you. We love you.

Or, as one of my friends put it:

If you wear a hijab, I’ll sit with you on the train.

If you’re trans, I’ll go to the bathroom with you.

If you’re a person of color, I’ll stand with you if the police stop you.

If you’re a person with disabilities, I’ll hand you my megaphone.

If you’re an immigrant, I’ll help you find resources.

If you’re a survivor, I’ll believe you.

If you’re a refugee, I’ll make sure you’re welcome.

If you’re a veteran, I’ll take up your fight.

If you’re LGBT, I won’t let anyone tell you you’re broken.

If you’re a woman, I’ll make sure you get home ok.

If you need a hug, I’ve got an infinite supply.

If you need me, I’ll be with you. All I ask is that you be with me, too.

That seems to me like the to-do list we all need.

Why does this matter so much? Let me share one last quote from this week. This one from a young adult who grew up in our congregation:

“From the moment I saw your video that accepted lgbt youth into the church without judgement, I knew I was accepted in my church. And that meant more to me than I could ever explain.”

Friends, we now know what’s next. We now know what we have to do and who we have to be: agents of God’s love, kindness, and protection.

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Live blogging Sleep Out Saturday 2016 #HomelessNoMore

As I have the last couple years, I’m attempting to live blog this annual event to raise awareness about homelessness in DuPage County — and to raise funds to help neighbors experiencing homelessness. Bridge Communities puts on this event to aid their efforts to end homelessness. 

6:30am The view in the light of day:

3:30am I’m extremely grateful for all the dedicated adult volunteers who love God and love our youth enough to spend the night monitoring our Sleep Out area. 

12:15am everyone is finally in their boxes or tents and settling down to sleep. 

10:00pm Small group discussion post simulation:

-So many ways to become homeless

-so unfair how veteran was treated

-rage! It wasn’t fair! I was first at Section 8 but never got in when everyone else did. I think it was racist. 

-hard to know how much info to share at each spot. Should I tell them I’m 45 yo with mental illness 

-I’m under poverty line but turned away for making too much

-felt frustrating, disappointing getting the run around, felt judged, 

-pens became scarce. Some stole, some hoarded, some shared. 

9:00pm  As we attempted to enter the church building we were met at the door, told to line up, asked to sign in agreeing to some conditions, and our cell phones were collected. 


It was the beginning of a threefold simulation game. First,The church building was our shelter. 


Then, each one received an identity, complete with backstory of how we became homeless. Our task was to find a place to stay for the night. Others played the role of apartment manager or women’s shelter or public housing employee. We had to navigate the various systems trying to gain housing. 



The final portion of the simulation was food distribution. Each of us received an envelope of money with which we could purchase a snack. Turned out not everyone had the same amount. 

8:30pm Couple reflections shared during the bus ride back to church:

It would be helpful to hear more about the programs that the funds raised provide. The mom who shared tonight mentioned some life skills classes, the most interesting of which was “How not to Date a Jerk or Jerkette.” 

Learning about those classes helps our kids make better connection between sleeping out & Bridge Communities. 

We also thought it would be cool to hear from someone who finished the program, say, 5 years ago speak about where they are now. 

8:00pm Couple facts we learned during the rally:

  • In 2015 Bridge helped 131 families 
  • 750 families self supportive after Bridge
  • This is the 13th year for SOS. Almost $2 Million has been raised in that time. 

7:40pm We heard from a few sponsors and Bridge employees, including a nice tribute to one of Bridge’s founders who died two weeks ago. Next,  the emcees read through the list of communities represented by the groups sleeping out. Always an easy crowd-pleaser. 

Finally, we heard from a family who is a Bridge Community client. I think most years we heard from families already finished with the program, so that was different. The mom spoke about losing the home she was in with her three kids and the 6 months it took to get into a Bridge apartment. But what I found most compelling was when the mom shared the terrible anxiety that accompanies not knowing how she would house her children. 
7:15pm In a new twist, a group called Power Brain yoga led some body movements to help keep the blood flowing and have a couple laughs as well. 
7:00pm Next up for musical entertainment and testimony-sharing is Savannah Whitaker, who is the winner of “Rising Stars Singing Competition sponsored by PulseFM at the World Pulse Fest.” I admit I’ve never heard of that competition, but Ms. Whitaker has an amazing voice!

6:30pm Troy helped our bus driver navigate the downtown Glen Ellyn traffic and so we’ve arrived at the Rally! It has to be twice as warm as it has ever been in our 5 years with this event. It’s a little discombobulating, honestly. We’re used to just wearing ever layer ever. Tonight? People are in shorts or t-shirts. So. Weird. 

Anyway, the Rock Out for Sleep Out by School of Rock is in full swing. Or rather in full rock, I suppose. 


Not a huge crowd yet, despite the nice weather. On the plus side, that meant we are here in time to receive a t-shirt. So we’ve got that going for us…which is nice. 

6:00pm  Our final participants arrived at church and we’re on the Rally Bus headed to the, well, to the Rally. We expect to hear music from local student bands and hear testimony from families helped by Bridge Communities’ programs. 

Lament

Divorce. Disease. Death. The uncomfortable truth is that our congregation, our communities, and our country is hurting. From more than just those three ‘d’ words, of course. But those are the ones I’ve encountered most in recent weeks and months. Too often, we feel the need to present ourselves as doing fine — even in church. Maybe especially in church. I know because I do it too. In my head, I know that our sanctuary should be just that: a place of refuge from the parts of our lives that expect us to be — need us to be, demand us to be — ‘ok’ all the time. I know I want our place in the world at 2700 75th Street to be a place where it is ok not to be ok. However, I also know just how hard it is to admit to ourselves and others that we’re not ok. For myriad reasons, internal and external, we want and need to appear tough, solid, stoic, strong, above it all.

Yet we follow God in the Way of Jesus. That means we follow a God who willingly became vulnerable and intimately entered the world. Baby Jesus? Vulnerable. Born to an unwed, teenage mother? Vulnerable. Part of a family that became refugees in a foreign country in order to flee violent authorities? Vulnerable. Lived in a country occupied and controlled by a foreign military power? Vulnerable. Openly protested his own people’s cultural practices that further oppressed the poor? Vulnerable.  Arrested, beaten, and executed on trumped up charges? Vulnerable.

But following God in the Way of Jesus means we follow a God who lived in an open, vulnerable manner that allowed others around him to be vulnerable as well — which often led to their healing. Isn’t that what we’re after too? Healing the hurt in our selves and in our sisters and brothers?

Our scriptures are full of people crying out to God for help, for healing, for wholeness. Let those authors provide your voice, if need be. Especially good for this are the psalms of personal lament such as Psalm 13, Psalm 35, and Psalm 86. Or try the psalms of communal lament such as Psalm 44, Psalm 74, or Psalm 80.

This Sunday, our prayer time will not feature a responsive litany. Instead we will engage in directed silence, lament, and celebration. To paraphrase biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann, we will seek to be honest about the ways the world disorients us and how we might find a new orientation in the grace and love of God.

So whatever it is that makes you not ok today: your own struggles, or issues with which those close to you are dealing, or broader societal problems like systemic racism or violence such as (this week’s examples) Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott, or desecration of sacred land in Standing Rock Reservation, or global challenges like getting education for all girls…bring it all so that in our honesty we may lay it at the altar.

Conversely, bring too all that helps you celebrate today: good news of a diagnosis, or a new job for a friend, or birth of a healthy baby, or relevant ministries helping someone out of poverty or homelessness, or globally the number people living in extreme poverty has dropped below 10% (down from 44% just 25 years ago)…bring all that to so that we can be reminded that “though the arc of the universe may be long, it bends toward justice.”

This Sunday let’s start a new trend together, let’s be honest about it when we’re not ok. And let’s make sure Woodridge UMC is a safe place to not be ok.

 

Throwback Thorsday

Today is Thorsday (aka Thursday) and, I’m told, it’s also #NationalSuperheroDay. I don’t know why that’s a thing, but I like it. Since I was just talking with a friend about a sermon I once did about Thor…seems like a good day for an archive post. Plus, I really do enjoy Marvel’s Thor books. The current run with [SPOILER ALERT – look away if you haven’t yet read the story arc revealing the identity of the new Thor]…Dr. Jane Foster as Thor has been particularly fun to read and is beautifully drawn. Here’s a small sample:

Thor image

 

Pretty awesome, right? Anyway, here’s The Gospel According to Thor


Originally posted January 30, 2014

You might think that putting up a sermon is the easiest kind of post. I mean, really, the content is already created, how hard could it be? Yet, somehow, it never ends up being that easy for me. Once again, here it is Thursday and I’m just now posting my sermon from this past Sunday (January 26). Which still beats the many times I didn’t post my sermon at all.

I’m sure this pathetic pattern is largely due to me being an inept blogger. But my particular process of sermon preparation plays a role as well.* I think a sermon is, first and foremost, an oral/auditory event. So I hope to add the audio soon. In the meantime, here are the notes I used as I spoke. Below I mention some of Julie Clawson’s writing; additionally, her 7-21 talk at Christianity 21 also informed my thoughts here.

Let me know what you think.

photo credit Colleen Erbach
This was the bulletin cover that day. Photo credit Colleen Erbach

“The Gospel According to Thor”

Isaiah 9:1-4 & Matt. 4:12-23

Realms collide as the only son of God comes to earth, offering displays of power, bringing his light into places of darkness, saving the world. I am, of course, talking about…Thor!

Why Thor? A quick search on Amazon of “Gospel according to,” yields 39,647 results. I am not making that up. Results include:

Pop culture icons: Dr. Seuss, Sopranos, Simpsons, JRR Tolkein, Peanuts, Shakespeare, Harry Potter, Disney, Star Wars, Hunger Games

Other bible stories: Job, Daniel, Jonah, Isaiah, and, my favorite, The Other Mary.

Even some, er, really creative ones: Coco Chanel, The Beatles, Jazz, Waffle House, Hoyle, Elvis, Patti Labelle, and Starbucks – which I’m pretty sure is, treat others the way you want to be treated…unless they say ‘ex-presso’ instead of ‘espresso.’ Then you are to mock them mercilessly.

So really, why not Thor??

Still, I’ll forgive you if you’re a little skeptical.

Heck, my own son – who has become a bit of a comic book geek himself (not sure how that happened) – even thinks it’s crazy.

“Hey Josh, look at this cool picture we’re using in church this week!”

“Why?”

“Whaddya mean ‘why’?? Isn’t that awesome?!?”

“You should’ve used Captain America; he’s cooler.”

“What! How do you figure?”

“His shield can stop Thor’s hammer.”

While Joshua hasn’t seen it yet, in The Avengers movie we have the video evidence that he is correct.

So why Thor? He’s become a fascinating and complex character. His stories are almost all about hope overcoming fear. And aren’t those the kinds of stories we need right now?

A recent story arc had him pondering the very nature of gods, had him questioning his own existence, had him flying all over the multiverse teaching people to pray.

When his not flying around the multiverse or smiting frost giants, what does Thor do? The answer might surprise you.

There’s this book, a filler of sorts, an issue between story arcs. But this stand alone issue continues a theme from the beginning of Thor: Thor always returns to Midgard. (That’s earth to the uninitiated.) If the tech will work, I’ll show you what Thor does on earth:

[I showed a few panels from Thor: God of Thunder #12]

-Thor drinks with friends. Ok, maybe not too surprising; he is a Viking god after all. Though I seem to recall another story about a son of God who made sure a party he was at didn’t run out of good drink…

-Thor visits a friend on death row and brings him his last meal.

-Thor brings food to seemingly orphaned children.

-Thor entrusts nuns with the seeds of an extinct orchid.

-Thor sits and talks with the proverbial wise man at the top of a mountain.

-Thor drinks with wounded soldiers; brings rain to dry land; scatters a crowd that claims “God hates you”; and hangs out with some fishermen.

-like a good celebrity, Thor responds to video invitation to attend a ball

-Thor grieves with a former girlfriend who is dying of cancer.

-Finally, far ahead in the future, Thor returns to Midgard…no matter how much it pains him.

Thor learns from and is inspired by his interactions with people on earth. The son of the highest god belongs on earth.

So what is the gospel according to Thor? Seems like it is “bring light and life into dark and dying places.”

“I could use a good saving the world story,” said Jane Foster as she was dying of breast cancer.

We need stories that inspire us; stories that remind us that hope doesn’t die; stories that remind us that fear, intimidation, injustice, oppression, and even death – as ubiquitous and implacable as they may seem – do. Not. Have. The. Last. Word.

As Julie Clawson writes, “We need as a culture to see that if we are creative and brave enough sometimes the biggest and baddest dragons can be defeated. Only story could do that for us.

Julie also points us to this quote from author Gerard Jones:

For young people to develop selves that serve them well in life, they need modeling, mentoring, guidance, communication, and limitations. But they also need to fantasize, and play, and lose themselves in stories. That’s how they reorganize the world into forms they can manipulate. That’s how they explore and take some control over their own thoughts and emotions. That’s how they kill their monsters.

Or consider this from CS Lewis:

“Since it is likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.”

Stories within stories within stories.

In Matthew, Jesus has gone through the water via his baptism, has been sent by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted, and is about to, in chapter 5, go up on a mountain (of sorts) to offer his fresh take on God’s law.

Through the water –> into the wilderness —> up the mountain… remind you of anything??

Matthew references Isaiah. Isaiah references Judges and the story of Gideon. And really, what is the book of Judges if not tales of superheroes? Men and women who display immense courage, who overcome their fear and their people’s fear, to defeat an enemy.

Gideon’s story is one of Israel’s deliverance from oppression – and all such stories of deliverance are references to the Exodus, when God delivered the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt.

So we’ve come full circle once again, from Jesus back to the Exodus, God’s great deliverance of God’s people.

Stories within stories within stories.

There is a shadow side to superhero stories: apathy. If we are so wrapped up and addicted to the need for a super power to save us – whether religion, technology, or political platform – we might never live the courageous path the stories inspire us to take.

(paraphrased from Kester Brown: “We need also to let go of our hope that some other superpower—whether religion, technology or a political formulation—will bring eternal peace and equilibrium.” and Julie Clawson)

God continues to delivery us from oppression and misery. God does that by continually calling us to live lives of grace and peace and hope. God loves us and call us to live lives of love.

Do you know that? I mean really know that in the very center of your self? That at the core of your identity you are God’s beloved child? No matter who you are or who you aren’t; no matter who your parents are or who they aren’t; no matter what you’ve done or what you’ve left undone…you are God’s beloved child. Do you know that?

Well the story isn’t over. Because you are also called by God. You are called by God to be God’s agents in the world – this world, our world, God’s world.

One biblical commentator wrote, “God designates human agents whom God empowers and authorizes in the public process of history. Such human agents turn the public reality of politics and economics toward the will of God.”

You are called by God to be agents in the world fighting, what are our vows?, “fighting evil and oppression in whatever form they present themselves.”

Frankly, there’s plenty of evil to go around. Not to go all “We didn’t start the fire on you”, but we know the big evils:

-1 Billion w/o clean safe water

-800 million hungry

-27 million trapped in slavery

-1 in 5 women sexually assaulted

-climate already 50 parts per million above sustainability

There’s plenty of actual, real evil to go around. We can’t afford to waste time making up pretend evils, like fighting about which particular consenting adults are allowed to get married.

And we’re acting on those evils. Sometimes indirectly through our UM connectional system: clean water projects, rebuilding after the Haiti earthquake, UMW demonstrating in Chicago to fight the sex trafficking that accompanies every Super Bowl.

Sometimes very directly: your generosity in Nov & Dec resulted in over $1000 donated to West Suburban Community Pantry. That will allow the Pantry to buy 3 tons of food!

But if those evils I mentioned strike you as too universal, here are some closer to home:

-We have heroin deaths on the rise in DuPage & Will counties.

-we have drug addiction ravaging young people – though not just young people

-I learned this week that 52% of children in Woodridge schools receive free or reduced lunch.

-There are children in our schools in Woodridge who are homeless. Children whose only meals each day are the free breakfast and lunch provided by the school.

How will we address those? Maybe we start with just one. Maybe we need to partner with the Woodridge Resource Center, see how we can go to them with offers of help. Maybe we can help provide meals for children in the summer months when school meals aren’t available. I don’t know but I’m convinced you do know. God is at work in and with and through and even in spite of, you and me and us.

What story will your life write? What story will we write together, as the people of God called Woodridge UMC?

I say let’s make it a story of ordinary people who dared to respond to God’s call and do extraordinary things! I say we overcome fear and evil with stories and faithful actions of hope! Amen?

————–

*I almost never write a manuscript (that’s preacher-ese for writing out each word of the sermon); instead I use a hybrid style. By which I mean I use a combination of outline, fully-written sections, and, er, inspiration. I always have a thesis so that I know where I’m going with the message. I usually write out the opening and the conclusion and just outline the middle. I find I think about the message all week long, almost constantly playing it in my head, revising it and playing it again. For whatever reasons, I ended up writing almost all of this one. Go figure.

 

My most famous photo

Well, the photo in question isn’t really famous. And it’s about the only photo of me that’s published somewhere other than on my own sites, so that “most” modifier isn’t really necessary. Oh, and it’s a picture of me but not by me. Other than those minor quibbles, the title of this post is totally accurate.😉

The picture in question?

OL didicating letters WUMC
photo credit: Patti Cash

That picture, or a version of it, appeared in a guest post I wrote for Bread for the World‘s Bread Blog. It appeared in the print version of that story in Bread’s Newsletter. I’ve used it for a post or two here and it serves as my representative on my About Me page.

Then last month I was interviewed about congregations conducting Offerings of Letters for an article to appear in Bread for the World’s April 2016 newsletter. As part of that interview, I was asked for a photo or two of our OL. I sent six or seven options, but in the end they chose this one. Again. I’m no photographer, but I guess it offers a decent amount of color, a vision of collection plates overflowing with letters, a peak at people praying, the context of the shot with “Dedication of Letters” visible on the screen, and it catches Tim looking at the camera.

Anyway, I love working with Bread for the World. They do a tremendous job combining Christian witness and advocacy through education, political engagement, and coalition-building. I’m proud of the way Woodridge UMC has embraced advocacy as worship. My congregation — and it’s Lead Pastors past and present — are amazing! I’m humbled and grateful to have Bread highlight our efforts. Here’s a taste of the article, Congregations Engage in Offering of Letters:

Bread for the World’s annual Offering of Letters campaign engages congregations and other faith communities in writing letters to Congress. There are as many ways to hold an Offering of Letters as there are groups that undertake the activity…

Rev. Dave Buerstetta serves as Koinonia pastor for Woodridge United Methodist Church in Woodridge, Ill. He has integrated the Offering of Letters into the life of Woodridge. He uses the power of social media to raise awareness. Buerstetta also writes a personal blog…

The letters from Cincinnati and from Woodbridge [sic] Church were among the more than 200,000 letters sent to Congress in 2015. In January of this year, the Senate Agriculture Committee passed the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016…

Read the whole thing here.

I admit it makes me a bit uncomfortable to be offered as an example of how to effectively use social media in ministry. Still, thank you, Bread! That’s very kind.

How about you? With what forms of advocacy are you engaging? How can we amplify one another?

 

 

 

 

April 15th, Jackie Robinson Day

I love baseball. It’s been my favorite sport to play, watch, follow, and read about my whole life. Now it’s our 10 year old son’s favorite too. 

I love striving for justice, especially what usually gets called social justice. I love trying to learn more, reading about it, connecting with people and organizations  working on poverty, hunger, discrimination, and human trafficking to name a few. 

Like anyone with eyes, ears, or even a minute willingness to view reality as it actually is, I know racism is at the center of all our country’s other problems and issues. 

Today, all three threads join together (Voltran style?) in the form of Major League Baseball’s Jackie Robinson Day. 

April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson became the first black player to play in MLB. One hashtag I’ve seen for it #Jackie4

  

So I’m going to try making this an open thread of sorts, updating throughout the day as I encounter stories or events about Robinson and/or confronting racism. 

Update #1: got invited to the Cubs v Rockies game. Thanks, Mike!

  

Update 2: In 1946, Robinson played for the Dodgers’ Minor League team in Montreal. Check out Keith Olbermann’s tweet with a program from that year:  
Update 3: On Jackie Robinson Day everyone honors him by wearing his #42. How cool is that?

  

  

Walking (and reading) the Stations

Last year this blog went through an extended new-post drought. While I wasn’t posting here, I was still writing and posting (at least occasionally) for my church site blog. Those posts felt specific to that audience, so I didn’t put them here even though I always use this site to write them (the WordPress process is so much more user-friendly than the church site one). Perhaps I thought those posts weren’t worthy of a wider audience?

I’m in awe of my friend Rocky Supinger’s ability to post five to seven times per week. His post this week, Something is Better Than Nothing, inspired me to decide I’m just going to share in this space at least a version of what I put on the church site. Perhaps I’ll even manage to empty out that Drafts folder in the coming days and weeks. Thanks, Rocky!

Anyway, here’s a response to our Good Friday worship experience at Woodridge UMC….

After our Good Friday experience of dining together and walking the Stations of the Cross, one participant asked if we could print the pictures used for each station instead of just having them on the screen. Another participant asked if we could offer the text from each station here on the website. So, here we go…

I was surprised by the number of people who weren’t familiar with walking the Stations of the Cross. I guess I thought the practice was more widespread, but that seems not to be the case, at least among our congregation. “I thought that was just a Catholic thing,” I heard a few times. Please note: not once was this said in the “that’s too Catholic for us” old critique kind of way. Each time it was said from a place of curiosity and wonder.

We started out by sharing that walking the Stations of the Cross is a form of prayer that’s been used since at least the Middle Ages, with some references of it going all the way back to St. Jerome, circa 325-420 CE. Christians have engaged in the practice for a long time.

Since we don’t have permanent Stations, we had to place our readings throughout the sanctuary and sort of hunt for them. At each station one person sounded a chime, another person read the station’s title and it’s description. Then the chime was sounded again to mark the end of that station. Plus, each station featured an aforementioned visual image projected on the screen.

You’ll have to imagine the chime and visual, but here then are the titles and readings we used for each station. They are adapted from a resource found at preachingpeace.org.

Station 1 — Jesus is condemned to die.

Pilate found no fault with Jesus, but when the crowd grew loud, he grew silent. “I wash my hands. You deal with it.” Pilate had the knowledge and the power to stand and say “No!” to the world as it sought to crush the Lord of Life, but he chose not to act on his knowledge nor use his power.

 

Station 2 — Jesus takes up his cross.

This cross has now been thousands of years in the making. Its weight still grows greater each time I look for someone to blame for the pain in my world. Each time I insist that sin must be punished, I add an ounce to the burden Jesus carries for me. This is the cross Jesus carries; it is the cross of blame, of vengeance.

 

Station 3 — Jesus falls the first time.

Jesus, they watched you fall, and nervously laughed together. The laughter transformed them from individuals to a collective, and gave them a sense of belonging. Their laughter reduced you to a joke, to something less than a man. They became a mob, and relinquished their individual sense of right and wrong.

 

Station 4 — Jesus meets his mother.

Jesus, they wanted to make you an object of laughter to isolate you completely, but your mother’s loving presence got in the way. She withstood the blows of taunt and sorrow to be present for you along the way. She alone remained to give you courage, to remind us that you are someone’s child, just like we are.

 

Station 5 — Simon helps Jesus carry the Cross.

They needed you to die, Jesus, but their rage had gone too far. You were beaten so severely, not able to go on, so they looked for a solution that wouldn’t involve them too closely or have them touch the cross themselves. The answer – find a stranger who had no idea who you were to carry the cross. Simon knew nothing of your innocence.

 

Station 6 — Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

Jesus, you had been beaten so badly that you were “marred beyond human semblance.” As you walked along, you were almost unrecognizable. It was so much easier to hate you, to jeer you, to wish you dead when they couldn’t see your face. Veronica did not permit that luxury. She stepped forward and wiped away the blood and sweat, revealing your human face to all the onlookers.

 

Station 7 — Jesus falls the second time.

The first time you fell, Jesus, the onlookers laughed. Your fall made their hatred well up even more powerfully. Even though Simon was forced to help you, you fell again and showed weakness, so the mob screamed all the louder, “Get up! Get up!” desperate to find an outlet for their rage. They recognized that life was not the way they wanted it to be and someone had to be blamed, and so they taunted you. “Get up, Jesus! Hurry up!”

 

Station 8 — Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.

Jesus, you told them, “Weep not for me, but for yourselves and for your children.” The women of Jerusalem, standing at a distance, wanted to weep for you as though your fate were unrelated to theirs, as though the violence you suffered did not affect them as well. You turned their sympathy back on to them; to remind them that your fate was their fate, too.

 

Station 9 — Jesus falls the third time.

Jesus, you did all you could do. You were utterly beaten, defeated, with not an ounce of strength left, so the remainder of what was to happen was left to the mob. They were not finished watching, taunting, hating. Like the potter’s clay, they fashioned you into what they needed you to be.

 

Station 10 — Jesus is stripped before the crowd.

Physical humiliation wasn’t enough. Spitting wasn’t enough. Whipping wasn’t enough. Crucifixion wasn’t enough. The mob needed to shame Jesus, to strip away from him any shred of human dignity. They were blind to the dignity in which his heavenly Father, our heavenly Father clothed Jesus. Unable to see his deeper dignity, they took sadistic pleasure in the shame they poured out on him.

 

Station 11 — Jesus is nailed to the Cross.

Hanging on the cross was not cruel enough, Jesus. Watching you suffocate would not satisfy the rage of the mob. So instead of using the traditional ropes, they needed to use nails to cut through your human flesh, to help the rage bleed away.

 

Station 12 — Jesus dies on the Cross.

The mob stood in stunned silence as they surveyed the result of their sin. The Lord of Life, Jesus, hung dead on the cross. The peace they pursued as they chased him up the hill refused to come. As they gazed upon Jesus, their victim, the realization dawned – violence would never bring peace. They were terrified and alone even as they stood with one another.

 

Station 13 — Jesus is taken down from the Cross.

Once the spectacle ended, the mob felt compelled to leave. There had been something both horrible and fascinating about Jesus as he hung there, and it was frightening to them. The task of dealing with his lifeless body, of touching Jesus, was left to those who were already unclean, so the mob had all departed by the time the guards permitted those who loved Jesus to bring him down from the cross.

 

Station 14 — Jesus is laid in the tomb.

Those who did not abandon Jesus, those who refused to join the mob, laid his body to rest with great tenderness into the empty tomb donated by a rich man. At that moment, they saw nothing divine in the torn flesh, nothing holy in the bloodied brow. They knew only sorrow, deeper than the greatest trenches of the oceans. Deep sorrow.

Moving from “Good” Friday to a holy Saturday

Today is known as “Good Friday.” Well, it’s actually only known as such among English- and Dutch-speaking people. Other names for this day include, according to UMC Discipleship Ministries, “‘Holy Friday’ among the Latin nations, “Great Friday” among the Slavic peoples, “Friday of Mourning” in Germany, “Long Friday” in Norway, and “Holy Friday” (Viernes Santo) among Hispanic peoples.”

We can only call this day “good” or “great” looking backwards from the perspective of Easter, of Resurrection. But it seems to me that we can better, more fully, enter into the story of Jesus by suspending whatever knowledge we have of Sunday and fully live into the despair of his death today. That’s what we’ll attempt to do with a three-part worship experience tonight at Woodridge United Methodist.

At 5:45 tonight, we gather around a table to share a simple meal, perhaps similar to the meal Jesus ate with his friends that final night. As this is a gathering for all ages, we’ll also have kid-friendly options. This is an interactive time as we consider together and enact the odd-to-us way dinners were served in Jesus’ time.

At 6:30, we continue to experience the story of Jesus’ final hours as we move from table fellowship to walking Stations of the Cross in our Narthex and Sanctuary. This ancient form of prayer invites us to hear 14 moments along Jesus’ journey to the cross.

Then at 7:00pm, a more traditional Good Friday worship time begins, making use of candles, songs, shadow, readings, and reflections.

We exit this service in silence, mirroring the silence of the grave. Jesus, our Lord, our teacher, our friend is dead.

Our challenge in this time is to be honest about this. Our challenge is to keep Saturday Holy. We know Sunday is coming. We can’t wait for the color and sound explosion that is Resurrection Day. But that’s a day away. We can’t yet know that relief. As Slacktivist, Fred Clark, so eloquently writes,

This day, the Saturday that can’t know if there will ever be a Sunday, is the day we live in, you and I, today and every day for the whole of our lives. This is all we are given to know…

Here, in time, there’s just this day, this dreadful Saturday of not knowing.

There are some things we can know on this Saturday. Jesus is dead, to begin with, dead and buried. He said the world was upside-down and needed a revolution to turn it right-way-round and so he was executed for disturbing the peace. He came and said love was greater than power, and so power killed him…

Seriously, just look around. Does it look like the meek are inheriting the earth? Does it look like those who hunger and thirst for justice are being filled? Does it look like the merciful are being shown mercy?

Jesus was meek and merciful and hungry for justice and look where that got him. They killed him. We killed him. Power won.

Our challenge is to be honest about this Saturday. Our challenge is to live with the silence of the tomb. As Taylor Burton-Edwards writes, “This is the silence of the tomb, or perhaps more accurately, the silence from the tomb. This is the silence that grabs us, if we are paying attention at all, when we contemplate the aftermath of the crucifixion.”

To help us experience this, Burton-Edwards leads a Holy Saturday service each year via Twitter. You may follow it at the hashtag #holysat16 beginning at 9:00 am (Central time) Saturday, March 26th.

Let’s keep this Saturday Holy by honestly acknowledging the limits of our knowledge and by allowing the silence of and from the tomb to wash over us. Perhaps then, when we gather Sunday morning at 9:00 and 10:30 am, our celebrations will be sweeter than ever.

Resources from Lent

The Psalms of Lent was our theme for the season at Woodridge United Methodist Church. as we prepare to enter Holy Week, I thought it would be fun to collect all the Psalms we used in one place…so I did.

bible-Psalms

Each Sunday in Lent we first heard the Psalm from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) through the sung Psalter in our UM hymnals. Then we heard the lectionary text from a different translation to give us another experience of it. As we’ve seen over and over again in our weekly bible study, hearing the text from a variety of sources really helps us engage. We hear and notice different things or react to the text in completely different ways depending upon particular word choices.

February 10, Ash Wednesday: Psalm 51 — New Living Translation

Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins.
2 Wash me clean from my guilt.
Purify me from my sin.
3 For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
4 Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say,
and your judgment against me is just.[a]
5 For I was born a sinner—
yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.
6 But you desire honesty from the womb,[b]
teaching me wisdom even there.
7 Purify me from my sins,[c] and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Oh, give me back my joy again;
you have broken me—
now let me rejoice.
9 Don’t keep looking at my sins.
Remove the stain of my guilt.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me.
11 Do not banish me from your presence,
and don’t take your Holy Spirit[d] from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you.
13 Then I will teach your ways to rebels,
and they will return to you.
14 Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves;
then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness.
15 Unseal my lips, O Lord,
that my mouth may praise you.
16 You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
You do not want a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.
18 Look with favor on Zion and help her;
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will be pleased with sacrifices offered in the right spirit—
with burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings.
Then bulls will again be sacrificed on your altar.

 

February 14: Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 — The Message

You who sit down in the High God’s presence,
spend the night in Shaddai’s shadow,
Say this: “God, you’re my refuge.
I trust in you and I’m safe!”

Yes, because God’s your refuge,
the High God your very own home,
Evil can’t get close to you,
harm can’t get through the door.
He ordered his angels
to guard you wherever you go.
If you stumble, they’ll catch you;
their job is to keep you from falling.
You’ll walk unharmed among lions and snakes,
and kick young lions and serpents from the path.
14-16 “If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God,
“I’ll get you out of any trouble.
I’ll give you the best of care
if you’ll only get to know and trust me.
Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times;
I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.
I’ll give you a long life,
give you a long drink of salvation!”

 

February 21: Psalm 27 — The Voice

The Eternal is my light amidst my darkness
and my rescue in times of trouble.
So whom shall I fear?
He surrounds me with a fortress of protection.
So nothing should cause me alarm.
The psalms provide us with a way to think about and pray through the various threats we face. Our enemies today may not be the same as in biblical times, but they are no less real. Consider the threats on the horizon. Some may be national. Others may be more personal. Still they come to surround us and destroy us if they could only get the chance. The reality is there are times when our enemies appear to have the upper hand and our cause is lost. But wait and listen to the psalm! All is not lost because, ultimately, God is our light and salvation. The darkness will lift, and our Savior will come. He will settle all scores, and we will live in the beauty of His presence.
2 When my enemies advanced
to devour me alive,
They tripped and fell flat on their faces into the soil.
3 When the armies of the enemy surround me,
I will not be afraid.
When death calls for me in the midst of war,
my soul is confident and unmoved.
4 I am pleading with the Eternal for this one thing,
my soul’s desire:
To live with Him all of my days—
in the shadow of His temple,
To behold His beauty and ponder His ways
in the company of His people.
5 His house is my shelter and secret retreat.
It is there I find peace in the midst of storm and turmoil.
Safety sits with me in the hiding place of God.
He will set me on a rock, high above the fray.
6 God lifts me high above those with thoughts
of death and deceit that call for my life.
I will enter His presence, offering sacrifices and praise.
In His house, I am overcome with joy
As I sing, yes, and play music for the Eternal alone.
7 I cannot shout any louder. Eternal One—hear my cry
and respond with Your grace.
8 The prodding of my heart leads me to chase after You.
I am seeking You, Eternal One—don’t retreat from me.
9 You have always answered my call.
Don’t hide from me now.
Don’t give up on me in anger at Your servant.
You have always been there for me.
Don’t throw me to the side and forget me,
my God and only salvation.
10 My father and mother have deserted me,
yet the Eternal will take me in.
11 O Eternal, show me Your way,
shine Your light brightly on this path, and make it level for me,
for my enemies are lurking in the recesses and ravines along the way.
12 They are watching—hoping to seize me.
Do not release me to their desires or surrender me to their will!
Liars are standing against me,
breathing out cruel lies hoping that I will die.
13 I will move past my enemies with this one, sure hope:
that with my own eyes, I will see the goodness of the Eternal
in the land of the living.
14 Please answer me: Don’t give up.
Wait for the Eternal in expectation, and be strong.
Again, wait for the Eternal.

 

February 28: Psalm 63:1-8  — Contemporary English Version

You are my God. I worship you.
In my heart, I long for you,
as I would long for a stream
in a scorching desert.
2 I have seen your power
and your glory
in the place of worship.
3 Your love means more
than life to me,
and I praise you.
4 As long as I live,
I will pray to you.
5 I will sing joyful praises
and be filled with excitement
like a guest at a banquet.
6 I think about you
before I go to sleep,
and my thoughts turn to you
during the night.
7 You have helped me,
and I sing happy songs
in the shadow of your wings.
8 I stay close to you,
and your powerful arm
supports me.

 

March 6: Psalm 32 — The Message

Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be—
you get a fresh start,
your slate’s wiped clean.
2 Count yourself lucky—
God holds nothing against you
and you’re holding nothing back from him.
3 When I kept it all inside,
my bones turned to powder,
my words became daylong groans.
4 The pressure never let up;
all the juices of my life dried up.
5 Then I let it all out;
I said, “I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God.”
Suddenly the pressure was gone—
my guilt dissolved,
my sin disappeared.
6 These things add up. Every one of us needs to pray;
when all hell breaks loose and the dam bursts
we’ll be on high ground, untouched.
7 God’s my island hideaway,
keeps danger far from the shore,
throws garlands of hosannas around my neck.
8 Let me give you some good advice;
I’m looking you in the eye
and giving it to you straight:
9 “Don’t be ornery like a horse or mule
that needs bit and bridle
to stay on track.”
10 God-defiers are always in trouble;
God-affirmers find themselves loved
every time they turn around.
11 Celebrate God.
Sing together—everyone!
All you honest hearts, raise the roof!

 

March 13: Psalm 126 — The Voice

Remember when the Eternal brought back the exiles to Zion?
It was as if we were dreaming—
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter;
our tongues were spilling over into song.
The word went out across the prairies and deserts,
across the hills, over the oceans wide, from nation to nation:
“The Eternal has done remarkable things for them.”
3 We shook our heads. All of us were stunned—the Eternal has done remarkable things for us.
We were beyond happy, beyond joyful.
4 And now, Eternal One, some are held captive and poor.
Release them, and restore our fortunes
as the dry riverbeds of the South spring to life when the rains come at last.
5 Those who walk the fields to sow, casting their seed in tears,
will one day tread those same long rows, amazed by what’s appeared.
6 Those who weep as they walk
and plant with sighs
Will return singing with joy,
when they bring home the harvest.

 

March 20: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29  — Common English Bible

Give thanks to the Lord because he is good,
because his faithful love lasts forever.
2 Let Israel say it:
“God’s faithful love lasts forever!”

19 Open the gates of righteousness for me
so I can come in and give thanks to the Lord!
20 This is the Lord’s gate;
those who are righteous enter through it.
21 I thank you because you answered me,
because you were my saving help.
22 The stone rejected by the builders
is now the main foundation stone!
23 This has happened because of the Lord;
it is astounding in our sight!
24 This is the day the Lord acted;
we will rejoice and celebrate in it!
25 Lord, please save us!
Lord, please let us succeed!
26 The one who enters in the Lord’s name is blessed;
we bless all of you from the Lord’s house.
27 The Lord is God!
He has shined a light on us!
So lead the festival offering with ropes
all the way to the horns of the altar.[a]
28 You are my God—I will give thanks to you!
You are my God—I will lift you up high!
29 Give thanks to the Lord because he is good,
because his faithful love lasts forever.

 

March 25, Good Friday: Psalm 22 — Contemporary English Version

 My God, my God, why have you
deserted me?
Why are you so far away?
Won’t you listen to my groans
and come to my rescue?
2 I cry out day and night,
but you don’t answer,
and I can never rest.
3 Yet you are the holy God,
ruling from your throne
and praised by Israel.
4 Our ancestors trusted you,
and you rescued them.
5 When they cried out for help,
you saved them,
and you did not let them down
when they depended on you.
6 But I am merely a worm,
far less than human,
and I am hated and rejected
by people everywhere.
7 Everyone who sees me
makes fun and sneers.
They shake their heads,
8 and say,
“Trust the Lord!
If you are his favorite,
let him protect you
and keep you safe.”
9 You, Lord, brought me
safely through birth,
and you protected me
when I was a baby
at my mother’s breast.
10 From the day I was born,
I have been in your care,
and from the time of my birth,
you have been my God.
11 Don’t stay far off
when I am in trouble
with no one to help me.
12 Enemies are all around
like a herd of wild bulls.
Powerful bulls from Bashan[a]
are everywhere.
13 My enemies are like lions
roaring and attacking
with jaws open wide.
14 I have no more strength
than a few drops of water.
All my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like melted wax.
15 My strength has dried up
like a broken clay pot,
and my tongue sticks
to the roof of my mouth.
You, God, have left me
to die in the dirt.
16 Brutal enemies attack me
like a pack of dogs,
tearing at[b] my hands
and my feet.
17 I can count all my bones,
and my enemies just stare
and sneer at me.
18 They took my clothes
and gambled for them.
19 Don’t stay far away, Lord!
My strength comes from you,
so hurry and help.
20 Rescue me from enemy swords
and save me from those dogs.
21 Don’t let lions eat me.
You rescued me from the horns
of wild bulls,
22 and when your people meet,
I will praise you, Lord.
23 All who worship the Lord,
now praise him!
You belong to Jacob’s family
and to the people of Israel,
so fear and honor the Lord!
24 The Lord doesn’t hate
or despise the helpless
in all of their troubles.
When I cried out, he listened
and did not turn away.
25 When your people meet,
you will fill my heart
with your praises, Lord,
and everyone will see me
keep my promises to you.
26 The poor will eat and be full,
and all who worship you
will be thankful
and live in hope.
27 Everyone on this earth
will remember you, Lord.
People all over the world
will turn and worship you,
28 because you are in control,
the ruler of all nations.
29 All who are rich
and have more than enough
will bow down to you, Lord.
Even those who are dying
and almost in the grave
will come and bow down.
30 In the future, everyone
will worship
and learn
about you, our Lord.
31 People not yet born
will be told,
“The Lord has saved us!”

 

Finally, one non-Psalm resource to share: some interesting neuroscience research. Here’s a part I quoted on Feb 28:

Here’s what brain research says will make you happy:
•Ask “What am I grateful for?” No answers? Doesn’t matter. Just searching helps. Boosts the neurotransmitter dopamine, just like antidepressant drug
•Label those negative emotions. Give it a name and your brain isn’t so bothered by it. activate your prefrontal cortex, which reduces the arousal in the limbic system, reduces emotion
•Decide. Go for “good enough” instead of ‘best decision ever made on Earth.” Trying to be perfect overwhelms your brain with emotions and makes you feel out of control. recognizing that good enough is good enough activates more dorsolateral prefrontal areas, which helps you feel more in control
•Hugs, hugs, hugs. Don’t text — touch. It makes you more persuasive, increases team performance, improves your flirting … heck, it even boosts math skills. Touching someone you love actually reduces pain.

I admit I was very nervous when, after I shared some of this, I looked up and our congregant with a doctorate in psychology was talking with mental-health professional colleague…so I asked her (in the midst of the sermon, because that’s the way we roll) if it rang true. I was relieved when she replied in the affirmative.

As you read through these Psalms again, what stands out? What do you notice? What moves your or bothers you? What questions do they raise? What thoughts and emotions do they evoke?