Striving to have eyes that see

My September 29th sermon was, at heart, an attempt to humanize people who receive SNAP benefits – people who are all too often demonized, blamed for needing help, called names like “lazy” or “grifters.” I was trying to demonstrate that the people who receive SNAP benefits are simply that: people. It just happens they are people who need a little help.

My sermon was an attempt to help us learn from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. That is, it was an attempt to help us see the poor and hungry people who are on our doorstep. Something the rich man in the parable was unable to do until it was too late – for both men.

So I offered a bunch of statistics hoping to demonstrate that SNAP recipients could be any of us. SNAP recipients are white, black, and hispanic. Urban, suburban, and rural. Children, adults, and elderly. Married with children, single adults, and single parents. SNAP recipients work at all kinds of jobs, including our military.

However, after worship one member said better in two sentences what I spent twenty minutes trying to get across.

“Pastor, I wanted to stand up in the middle of your sermon and say, ‘It’s me! You’re talking about me! I’m working five jobs and still need help feeding my kids.'”

Yes, I talk and write and preach and post about hunger and poverty – a lot. I do so because both the biblical witness and United Methodist tradition convince me that is the best way to live the faith of Jesus Christ in the world.

But I also do so because experiences like this one on Sunday convince me again and again that in Christ there is no “them”, no “other.” There is only “us.” And we’re all on this journey of faith together. We all need each other. What affects one, affects us all.

That’s not a bug, it is a feature. Thanks be to God for that!

“That’s some salty language!” – final version of Feb.6 sermon

Not exactly sure why, but unlike many of my more disciplined colleagues, I’ve never been one to post a written version of a sermon. Probably has mostly to do with not preaching from a manuscript. Posting a few notes with a few more-fully written paragraphs and a few other thoughts that end up not being said…well, just doesn’t sound very appealing.

But it also has to do with seeing the sermon as more of a singular, oral event that occurs in a particular context for a particular audience and not as a paper to be submitted. It just seems like something is missing when reading a sermon – it’s meant to be heard!

(Please don’t misunderstand this as criticism of any of who do write out and post a sermon. I’ve read some that were really good.)

Now, as you’ve likely guessed, I’m about to do the very thing I just said I don’t like to do. Sort of. Think of this as the SportsCenter highlights version of my “That’s Some Salty Language!” sermon. I shared some thoughts on this recently. What follows now are my reflections after the fact.

Following the lectionary, the texts were Isaiah 58:1-12 and Matthew 5:13-20.

My synopsis: Jesus calls his followers to be salt and light in the world – to live righteous lives. Isaiah helps us define that righteousness as rescuing the oppressed.

While I didn’t say this exactly, these commentaries on those texts guided my message:

Isaiah 58 mocks worship preoccupied with ritual and blind to human oppression and need. It subverts a religion, no matter how passionate and busy, that ignores social arrangements that leave people dehumanized and enslaved. Authentic worship occurs when liturgy is joined to a hands-on involvement with the hungry and homeless.

Salt and light are functional metaphors. By their very nature they do something, and do it openly. They have an impact on the surrounding environment. Disciples of Jesus cannot retreat into private spirituality. Our call is to the marketplace, the public arena, where discipleship becomes witness and the same commitments Isaiah made are to be practiced.

What are those functions? Salt preserves and protects. Salt brings out the best in food. And, as all of us here in the Chicago area rediscovered this week, salt melts away that which paralysis us, that which causes us to stumble, that which oppresses us. Light eradicates darkness and helps us to see things as they really are, helps us see the truth.

What if we saw church as training ground for teaching people to be salt shakers and flashlights – what if the purpose of church is to transform the world?

That’s what the UMC says it’s for! “Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”

Isaiah and Jesus tell us today what we are to be transformed into.

What if what we do here at WUMC is train people how to be salt and light, encourage each other in those efforts, recruit new agents of change, celebrate successes, commiserate failures, seeing worship as filling us up with the Holy Spirit in order to leave our building ready, bursting even!, to change the world…to be salt and light.

That’s what Isaiah & Jesus are talking about.

So who among us beams with light? Who is providing salty flavor? Who is fasting rightly, bringing deliverance, hope and life to those around them? Who is preserving/protecting? Who is melting away that which oppresses? Who is eradicating darkness?

-Final Bloody Sunday march in Northern Ireland? British government finally admitted its troops were to blame for the massacre, not the demonstrators. Further, British government admitted the troops had no reason to believe they were under threat from the victims, gave no warnings before firing and lied to the official inquiry. This reversed decades of official government explanations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

-Family of our congregation who takes in young people with no where else to go, young people often rejected by their own parents.

Egyptian protester kissing riot police This is the greatest example of Jesus’ teachings on the Sermon on the Mount I’ve ever seen! Brilliant, non-violent, disarming but still affirms and loves the other, the enemy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-Rosa Parks: She would have been 98 years old Friday. We don’t hear that Parks worked with the Youth Council of Montgomery’s NAACP in a “mighty but unsuccessful” effort to integrate Montgomery’s library when she became angry that black children didn’t have access to books.

“As long as people use tactics to oppress or restrict other people from being free, there is work to be done.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-Christians encircling Muslims at prayer in Egypt this week

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-In January, on Coptic Christmas, Egyptian Muslims became human shields for Coptic Christians to ward off further violent attacks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-fighting trafficking – slavery – at the Super Bowl. National Hotline gets more calls from Texas than any other state. 1 out of 3 children who become homeless are sold into sex slavery w/in 48 hours of hitting the street. Super Bowl called “single largest human trafficking incident in USA, especially under-age slaves” Consider that when you see how many commercials this evening denigrate women. A South Florida task force estimated that tens of thousands were trafficked through there for a recent Super Bowl.

About 50 girls were rescued during the past 2 Super Bowls

“I’m not buying it” Campaign. Jay Ratlif, 3-time Pro Bowler from Cowboys made PSA for it. “Real men don’t buy children. They don’t buy sex.”

Airlines holding training to learn what to watch for.

Texas Attorney General working on it. NFL and Host Committee are ignoring it.

The group behind Traffick911, the founder of “I’m Not Buying it” campaign? A nondenominational church plant in Fort Worth. They wanted to raise awareness and show Christian compassion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

-Friday and yesterday, one of our college students, Catie, participated for the third time in the U of Iowa’s annual Dance Marathon. She helped raise over $1.2 Million for U of Iowa Children’s Hospital Pediatric Oncology Unit

 

 

 

 

 

 

-Another of our college students, Nikki, working with Invisible Children campus group to help child soldiers in Africa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-19 year old Zach Wahls speaking before Iowa Senate, shining light on a resolution that would return Iowa to the days of discrimination and oppression

People full of light, speaking a very salty language. May God’s Holy Spirit keep moving each of to be citizens in God’s kingdom, to be light bearers, to speak with THAT kind of a salty tongue. Amen? May it be so!

That’s Some Salty Language!

That’s the title.

And that’s about as far as I’ve gotten on my sermon for Sunday. Well, ok, that’s not entirely true.

I’ve read the texts for this week: Isaiah 58:1-12 and Matthew 5:13-20. Isaiah and Jesus offer startling definitions of righteousness – of how God wants people to live. And I’ve read some commentary on those texts and I have some thoughts about them:

What does life in the kingdom of God look like?

What is a truly good (or righteous) life?

What might such a life look like in our globalized, and often polarized, world?

But mostly I just keep coming back to this incredible picture from Egypt taken last week:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s the best expression of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount teachings I’ve ever seen.

What do you think?

 

We’ll ponder that some more, explore questions, sing, pray and share Holy Communion at Woodridge United Methodist Church this Sunday at 9:00 & 10:30am. All are welcome! We’d love to have you join us.

My sermon from Oct. 10, 2010: Settling In & Coming Out

As I wrote previously, the sermon I gave at my church (Woodridge UMC) garnered quite the reaction. I’ve never been more scared about the possible reaction to a sermon. I’ve never been more gratified by a response.

6 dead kids is 6 too many. Anti-gay bullying must stop. All bullying must stop. Every human being is a beloved child of God. You are not alone. I’m coming out as a LGBTQ ally!

Here’s part one, the set up and the disclaimer:

Now part two, the good stuff: