On the Road Again

(sermon 4/15/18)

road-to-emmaus

Luke 24:13-49

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

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This is one of my favorite stories in the entire New Testament. And because it’s a favorite of mine, I talk about it often, so I hope it’s one of your favorites too, and you don’t get bored when I tell it again. This wonderful story about Jesus and his appearance to those disciples on their way to Emmaus, and the story that we heard following it, the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples later that same day. Every one of these post-resurrection stories that we have of Jesus, these accounts of Jesus appearing to people, and doing things with his followers, all really stitch together to tell one overarching story. Each one is maybe a chapter in one larger story that tells us different things. Each one teases out some particular theological point that the writer of the particular gospel wants to tell us. Think about some of the things that happened in these appearances. You just heard these two, and certainly last week, you heard about a very similar situation with Thomas; touch my body, put your finger in my wound; and then certainly, the week before that, the resurrection itself. Each one of these things is telling us something specific, theologically, about Jesus. A number of these stories are intended to make certain points to us, to answer questions about Jesus that people had in the early days of the church, and that we still ask today. Several of these stories go to the issue of people saying, “You know, I have trouble with this whole ‘Jesus rising from the dead’ thing. So maybe Jesus wasn’t anything supernatural or special; maybe he was just a great man, a human being like the rest of us – and maybe when he was on the cross, he didn’t really die. Maybe he just ‘swooned,’ he was unconscious, they thought he was dead, they took him down from the cross and put him in the tomb, and then at some later time in the coolness of the tomb, he revived and reappeared to people.” So some of these post-resurrection stories go to the issue of saying no, that is not what happened at all. There is indeed something supernatural going on with Jesus and resurrection. That Jesus isn’t only a human being, but he is also something divine, something supernatural. So we get these stories of Jesus sort of popping into and out of scenes; Jesus appearing and disappearing and reappearing, and somehow manipulating space and time to get from one place to another. The stories show that there is something unique going on here. Jesus isn’t just a human being. But then, by the same token, you get these other stories that go to the other side, where people think “Well, Jesus was never really a human being, it was just God appearing to look like a human being; Jesus was just this spiritual being, so there was never any real human suffering or anything like that in Jesus’ life, and certainly in his seeming death.” So some of these post-resurrection stories go in that direction, addressing that concern, making the point that no, Jesus was just as human as you or me, so you hear that coming through in these other stories; touch my hands, touch my feet. Is there anything to eat here? In several of these stories, Jesus eats food in the presence of others. And I have to be a little irreverent, because as I think about the point that these stories are making, about the real physicality of Jesus, it reminds me of an old, silly joke that’s stuck with me – a skeleton walks into a bar and says “Bartender, give me a beer and a mop!” Some of those stories about Jesus are meant to show that this isn’t the case with Jesus – we aren’t talking about a ghost, or some ethereal spirit; we’re talking about a person with real substance and material presence. Jesus has a risen body; the fish isn’t going to just drop on the floor. Jesus is truly a risen person, but these other stories are showing us that he’s more than just a person. Jesu has a body but somehow, it can change. Somehow, now someone who knew Jesus intimately for several years may not always recognize him when he’s standing right in front of them. Mary at the tomb; these disciples on the road to Emmaus. So there are a lot of important theological things going on in these post-resurrection accounts, and they’re important. And we hear these things reflected in the traditional creeds and confessions of the church, and in our Prayer of Great Thanksgiving, that Jesus is fully divine and yet fully human. This unique melding of divinity and humanity that we find in Jesus.

There is a lot of important theological points in these stories. But I think what is at least as important in this particular story that we hear today, of Jesus walking with those disciples, is the power of the story itself. I don’t mean this in a denigrating or dismissive way, that this is “only” a story. What I mean is that good stories have the power to tell great truths. And the gospels are full of amazing, wonderful stories that teach us eternal truth. What’s the sign of a good story? There are a number of things, I suppose, but one of those signs is that it makes you imagine yourself within the story. You’re right in the middle of it. You’re walking on that road right along with those disciples. You can feel the dew of the morning, the coolness of the morning air. You have lived, at some point or another, that despair of having lost someone; someone who meant so much to you in your life. Your grief is almost more than you can bear. You don’t know how you’re going to get along without this person that you love so deeply. That’s the despair that you hear in this story, and it comes alive again to us as we hear it. How many times have you been in that state of grief, and mourning, and you say “I just have to go out for a walk and clear my head.” And you go out, and you’re around nature. You hear the birds chirping. Leaves rustling in the trees. You hear your feet crunching the crushed stone along the path that you’re walking along. Somehow, you encounter God at some point, or at least a little bit of balm for what it is that you’re feeling, and you get that just by talking that walk. So now we have this story that we hear this morning, of those disciples walking on that path, and Jesus appears to them. Imagine this – imagine that you yourself are one of these disciples. You’re walking, and you’re grieving, and you’re mourning, and Jesus appears. And even though you’ve lived and loved this man for years, you’ve experienced life through thick and thin with this man, and somehow you don’t recognize this person. How is that? How can this be? And then this person speaks to your heart. Then this person opens up things within you that you didn’t even know were there. This person opens faith up to you; this person opens hope and assurance to you, that yes, there is grief, there is mourning, but a new day will come, indeed has come. The hope that we have in Christ Jesus. And he opens this truth up to them on this walk. He changes their lives. He stirs their hearts. It’s truly miraculous.

We live within this story. And that’s why I do that sort of pretend walk to Emmaus when we have Communion, and retell this story, because it is so important to us. Why? Certainly because of all the theological points that we can think about. But, I think, more than even that, more important to us on a day-to-day basis, is this reality that as you and I walk through our lives, we will be walking in the presence of the Lord. We will do so, time and time and time again, without even being aware of it. Elsewhere in the scriptures, it talks about entertaining angels unaware; we entertain not only angels, but the risen Christ; we entertain God’s very self. Think about your lives – how many times have you experienced something that was so unique, something that was so different, that just as with those disciples, your hearts were warmed, your lives were stirred, and it was only looking back on it, that you knew it was a “God moment.” “I didn’t recognize God in the moment then, all I recognized is that there was something special about this, but now that I think back on it, I recognize that I was in the very presence of God.”

God is present with us. God does walk with us, through good days, and through days of grief. Maybe that’s the most important part of this story – the reassurance that everywhere we go, we will be in the presence of our risen Lord; we will be in the presence of God.

Hold that in your hearts. Hold that within you, every time you hear, and you think about this particular story in the gospels. And again, I don’t use the term “story” in a negative sense; Jesus taught in parables, in stories. Stories are what have the power to change our hearts, and mold our lives. Not only is this an amazing story because it means that we have been in the presence of God, initially unawares, but there’s also the “so now what?” aspect of that truth. This is the part of the call that Jesus gave to the disciples when he appeared to them in the second part of the story that we heard today. You’ve heard my words, he tells them. You are now to proclaim this repentance, this forgiveness from God; you are to proclaim this to all the nations, beginning here in Jerusalem and going out beyond. You be the face of Christ. You be God that a person doesn’t recognize in the moment, but only recognizes after the fact. In this story, we have both the proclamation of the gospel, that God has forgiven us, and walks with us every single day; as well as the call. Recognize God’s presence in your lives; now get out there and share it with someone else. Those two things are what the entire Church of Jesus Christ is all about. And it’s all summed up in this one story.

Thanks be to God.

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Living on This Side of the Stone

(sermon 4/1/18 – Easter Sunday)

empty-tomb

They took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.

Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. – (excerpts from John 19, 20)

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Imagine that scene – that first Easter morning. Walking out to the tomb in the still and the calm and the cool of the morning, your heart and your mind and your feet so heavy with grief and disbelief over the events of the last few days that it’s hard to even keep putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward. Then, finally, arriving at the tomb only to find what appeared to be one more shock, piling grief on top of grief, discovering that apparently, crucifixion wasn’t humiliation enough, now someone had even taken his body away.

Imagine the emotions of learning the reality of things. Imagine the confusion of finding these two strangers in white inside the tomb, where no one had been just moments before. And then, the joy of encountering the one you’d seen with your own eyes to be stone-cold dead, but now standing in front of you, face-to-face, every bit as alive as you were yourself.

This is the defining moment of the Christian faith. Resurrection. To be honest, the ethical teachings of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, most all of the major religions of the world, only differ to a very slight degree, But the most significant difference between Christianity and all the others is the issue of Jesus’ resurrection, and if it happened what it meant, and if that’s what it meant, what implications that has for humanity. The resurrection is truly a miracle.

This is where we, as people of faith, can get into trouble. We understand that faith in God, trust in God, is based on hope, on things that are unseen, and not based on physical evidence. At the same time, we honor and value education, facts, evidence, the scientific method; and we know that the universe operates on a set of established scientific and physical rules, a system where miracles really have no place.

So how do we square this contradiction? How do we live, as people of faith, in the tension of these two things?

I started off by asking you to imagine what it was like to be at the tomb on that first Easter morning. But in the truest sense, we really can’t imagine it. We’re people who are living entirely on this side of the resurrection; on this side of the stone at the entry of Jesus’ tomb. We can’t fully understand it; even the people who were really there couldn’t understand or explain what was really happening on that morning. They did their best to explain it, to put words to something that there really aren’t words for. And ever since, we and literally billions of other people have wrestled with the question of what these words were really describing, every bit as much as the people who were there struggled to find words to describe it.

Despite that struggling to understand, though, make no mistake – Jesus’ resurrection is absolutely, unquestionably real. It is as real as the earth and the sky, the sun, the moon, and the stars. It’s as real as the immutable scientific facts that water is two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen, or that paper cuts hurt way out of proportion to the actual  injury, or that all church pews get really uncomfortable after about twenty minutes. More to the point, the resurrection is as real as the fact that love is real.

How do I explain what physical, scientific, biological processes took place in Jesus’ resurrection? I can’t. More importantly, I don’t really care to; I don’t even think it’s an important question to ask. I know that I’ve said this before, but if tomorrow, archaeologist found a tomb marked with Jesus’ name, and that held his bones, his high school yearbook, his library card and a W-2 Form that proved beyond any doubt that these were Jesus’ physical remains, would it do anything to shake my faith in resurrection? I don’t really think it would. It wouldn’t, because despite that hypothetical box of bones, it’s absolutely, incontrovertibly a fact that resurrection happened that resurrection is real. Without having any idea what happened at the molecular level on that first Easter Sunday morning, we know that something unexplainable – something miraculous – happened that day. Something so powerful and convincing that couldn’t be doubted or denied; something that proved that death and the tomb weren’t powerful enough to contain or defeat Jesus. These people who knew Jesus in the flesh best, and who saw him die with their own eyes, encountered a living, loving, very real Jesus. And at some point not long after all this happened, whatever the details of what God did at that tomb on that Sunday morning, it was so real, so miraculous, that people who had never seen Jesus, or met him, or even heard of him, also came to believe what would otherwise have been unbelievable, and became followers of Jesus. And that evidence, that miracle, is repeated every time God works within the life of any person and gives them the faith to profess that Jesus is Lord, and to see the change within their lives that it causes.

Yes, despite all the nay-sayers and all conventional wisdom that would say otherwise, the resurrection is real. It’s a sign that points to God’s good news for us all – that God loves us, and has reached out to us, and in that love, calls each one of us worthy of being united with God, and called God’s own.

For all of us living on this side of the resurrection – all of us living on this side of the stone – the reality of the resurrection means that the God who created us loves us, and through Jesus, has experienced life like us, even injustice like us, and even death like us. The resurrection means that at every step of the long journey of our lives – every joyful, exciting, hopeful, uplifting step; every fearful, stressful, grieving, soul-crushing step – *every* step along the way, we are *never* without hope. We are *never* without love. We are *never* alone, because the God who somehow made the impossible possible, and the unbelievable believable, walks every one of those steps with us.

*That* is the great reality; *that* is the great truth; *that* is the great miracle that we celebrate today, as we say

Christ is risen; he is risen indeed!

Amen.

March On

(sermon 3/25/18 – Palm Sunday)

March for our Lives crowd

Mark 11:1-11

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

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Yesterday was a very important day in our nation’s history.  Certainly, by now all of you have seen images and video of the different “March for Our Lives” events around the country, especially the one in Washington D.C It was an amazing day. I was thinking about that, and several things really stood out to me about this series of events. The first thing is that this was truly a youth-driven thing. In Washington, there wasn’t a single speaker at the podium, there wasn’t a single speech given, by anyone over 18 years old.  In my generation, they used to say don’t trust anyone over thirty; this generation is tightening that down even more. I hope you had a chance to hear some of the speeches, and to hear some of the passion, and to see just the raw numbers in Washington, and Boston, and Los Angeles, and everywhere – 800 different events, most in this country, but worldwide as well. And it struck me that this is a generation of young people, who frankly, we’ve failed. And they’re taking the reins. They’re saying “Enough!” It amazed me that this is all youth-led. Now, were there adult organizers involved? Obviously. There were individuals and associated organizations that helped them to handle the logistics. I mean, if the initial attendance estimates are correct, this was the largest single-day protest gathering in the history of our country. Those kinds of events normally take even professionals a year to plan, not a month. So the logistics of this thing were amazing, and yes, they clearly had the help of organizations and talented people who knew how to make this happen, but those organizers stayed out of the limelight, and they let those kids say what was really on their mind – what the country, what the world really needed to hear.

Another thing that really struck me about the event was that you didn’t hear “The Republicans this,” or “The Democrats that;” or red-state/blue state; and all of that partisanship. Yes, I’m sure if you saw video of the crowd, there were probably some outlier signs that were partisan, but by and large, the overall message, and the speeches, were absolutely, completely non-partisan. They stuck on-target, on-topic – because this is not a partisan political issue that these young people were protesting, that they were lifting up for the world to see and pay attention to. As they said, “No longer” and “Not any more;” no more of these school shootings, no more mass violence.

But what struck me the most about what was happening was the feeling, the mood, the attitude. You heard those kids, and you heard the adults, and you listened to so many of the crowd interviews, and the overarching spirit was one of optimism. It was hope. It was positive. It was optimistic for the future – that this was going to be the tipping point; this was a Selma moment; this was a Stonewall moment; this was the tipping point for this generation. In that crowd, there was joy. There was elation, over the hope, the promise, that this day’s events gave to these people – to this country. And there were certainly people there, and at other events around the country, who will remember being a part of this day, of this event. They will tell their grandchildren, “Yes, I was there that day. I heard Emma Gonzalez speak. What a day.

Now many of us look at those events with eyes older than theirs, and with hair thinner and greyer than theirs, and we know what is possible. We know what may very well happen. Sad to say, but as the news cameras cover this for a few days, and then they move on to cover the next shiny thing in the news cycle  – and everyone gets bogged down with making sure that the bills get paid this month, and getting the kids to soccer practice, and all of the other distractions – that the hope, the excitement of yesterday is going to fade. And if politics continues its normal trajectory, in all likelihood, will fade, and dwindle, and very little will be done – that’s if the normal script is followed. And if that happens, you will have a generation of young people in this country who may become disillusioned, and bitter, and dejected, and angry, and hurt. And let’s face it; the odds are pretty good that that’s what’s going to happen. And yet, even after the hurt that is probably, unfortunately inevitable, in the long haul these young people are going to win. Their cause is just, the time is right, the long moral arc of history is bending in their direction. They are going to win this battle, even though in the short term they are in all likelihood going to face setbacks. They’re going to lose battles but they are going win the war. They are going to have hurt, but they are going to win. They are going to be validated; they are going to be vindicated in the end. An hopefully, enough of them know that, and they keep on pushing when the hurt comes, when the disillusionment comes, and hopefully enough of them will keep the courage, they will keep the faith and they will keep pushing, and moving, until they do, in fact, win, and they are going to win.

As I thought about all that, I saw a parallel between what is in all likelihood going to unfold as a part of this March for Our Lives, and what we’re observing here today. Imagining Jesus on that donkey, heading out from Bethany on the Mount of Olives, making that short ride, even being able to see Jerusalem, just two and a half or three miles down the road, coming around that path along the side of the hill, looking down into the valley and back up the other side, seeing all of Jerusalem spread out before him, and having his spirits lifted, his spirits buoyed, by the people surrounding him. Shouting his praises, singing his praises. Laying out their version of the red carpet for him. Their savior is coming; their king is coming, they’re going to push the occupying Romans out of Jerusalem. God’s kingdom is finally going to be once again established on earth, here in Jerusalem. Oh, happy day! People behind him in the procession, people ahead of him in the procession, people laughing and giggling and giddy with joy, and they’re taking selfies with Jesus on the donkey in the background, and they’re going through all of this. And still, Jesus sits on the donkey, seeing Jerusalem laid out ahead of him, and he knows that all of these people who are supporting him and singing his praises this day are going to vanish. His support is going to vaporize like a cobweb getting hit with a blowtorch as soon as the pressure comes, as soon as the heat comes bearing down on Jesus, they’re going to disappear. “What, Jesus? Jesus who? Never heard of him!” Jesus knows that at the end of this week stands the cross, and what this crowd will see as the end result of a failure, a fraud. Carrying along the resentment that they’ve been taken along for a ride by this fake, this phony. He knows all of this. He knows that this is coming.

Every time I think about that, every time I really consider that, and I put myself in Jesus’ place – I put myself on the back of that donkey, I cannot believe that I’d have kept going. I believe that if I were in that position, I would not have gone into the city. I’d have just turned that donkey around, and headed off toward the opposite side of the hill. I would have ridden off into the sunset, and said, “Folks, you’re on your own!”

But knowing full well what was to come, he did it. Being aware of all the events that would play out in the comings days, he did it. Because he knew that in the end, God would vindicate, would validate, everything that he had said, everything that he had done. It would all be validated through the resurrection.

And so that leaves us. Clearly not Jesus, and most all of us older than 18. We’re in the middle. And we think about our own life’s experiences. When we think about the things that we want in our lives – our hopes, our aspirations, our dreams, the things that we know are the way things should be, and for whatever reason, they aren’t quite that. And as people of faith, we come to God, and we ask God, we petition God, we ask for God’s intercession for these things that are not right. Medical fears. Relationship fears; that person who came into your life who you thought was God’s blessing to you, an answered prayer, has now disappeared on you, and you begin to wonder if you were mistaken, or if God is just cruel. There are times in your life when things aren’t going right, and you’ve been taught from the time that you were an infant to pray to God, and God hears and answers your prayers. And yet, as someone who has been around a while, you know that in all likelihood, in many of these cases, the answer to the prayer that you lift up is not the answer you’d hoped for. You can feel deserted, rejected, abandoned. In that sense, we do sometimes feel like Jesus riding on that donkey. We feel like so many of those youth are going to feel the first time some piece of legislation gets tabled, or not even introduced at all. We know that in all likelihood, in so many of these cases, there is going to be a feeling of abandonment.

How do we square that? We certainly know, as followers of Jesus, that as Jesus was himself, we play the long game. We know that that long moral arc is indeed bending toward our intended goal. We know that eventually, God is going to vindicate, God is going to validate, our hopes, our prayers, our aspirations. The day is coming. I don’t know when, and I don’t know what the details are in your own given circumstances, but I do know that vindication is coming. I can stand here and say that boldly and without qualification, because of the things that happened from the time that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that donkey, and through that following week, and into the resurrection.

We have this hope within us, that when things aren’t going exactly the way we’d planned, we know where it’s all headed. This day, it’s headed, on the back of a donkey, down the road, around the bend, down into the valley and back up the other side, into Jerusalem.

Thanks be to God.

 

 

Occam’s (Twin-Blade) Razor

(sermon 3/18/18)

my razor-resized

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 

Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

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This is my razor. I bought it when I was 18 years old, just a week or two before I went off to Penn State for undergraduate studies. It’s followed along with me ever since, wherever I’ve gone, whatever I was doing. I’ve shaved with this razor pretty much every day for almost 40 years. I’ve never replaced it with some newer, better one because as far as I was concerned, it did its job just fine and it wasn’t broken. To some people in our society, for me to not have bought a number of fancier, upgraded razors in all those years makes me not just a little odd, and not just cheap, but a troublemaker. Not a team player. A rabble-rouser; a dissident. I am the Alexander Solzhenitsyn of shaving. Because since the end of World War II, our economy, our society, has been built on the concept of continuous consumption. We’re taught from almost every direction that we should always want more than we already have. And once we have it, we need to buy a nicer, newer version of it just a year or two later. We’re told – and more often than not, we internalize – that our own worth is dependent on our “stuff.” If we have the newest of technology, the nicest furniture, the most current clothing, then we matter; and if we don’t, we don’t.

This isn’t just my opinion; it’s reality, and it isn’t just coincidence that this is the way things are. It’s intentional. After World War II, when we had a huge workforce coming home from the war looking for work, and a massive industrial structure needing some new purpose, a well-known economic analyst named Victor Lebow advised the government and industry leaders that our enormously productive economy required that we make consumption a way of life – making buying and selling of goods our formative social rituals, the rituals that give shape and meaning to our lives. Society needed to be altered so that we sought our actual spiritual satisfaction in consumption. The government and industry were all too eager to implement this strategy to keep a robust economy going, and now, for many people, their sense of self-worth is entirely wrapped up in the stuff they possess.

And yet, despite having more and better and nicer stuff than any other society in the history of the world, we aren’t content. We aren’t spiritually satisfied at all. In fact, at the same time we’re the generation that has the most material stuff, we also have the most psychological stuff. Generally speaking, we are  the most spiritually unfulfilled, dissatisfied, depressed, anxiety-ridden generation in history. How can this be?

Well, I introduced you to my razor earlier; now I’ll mention a more famous one – Occam’s Razor; the philosophical principle that when you’re trying to determine the solution to a question or problem, the most likely answer is the simplest one; the one that relies on the fewest assumptions or what-ifs. In this case, the simplest answer to the question of why we’re so unhappy even with all this stuff, is that the whole idea that stuff can make us happy and fulfilled is wrong from the very outset. We *can’t* find happiness through obtaining stuff. We can’t derive a sense of self-worth through consumption. We’ll never find spiritual satisfaction through material goods.

Even though all of us sometimes fall victim to this big lie that our society tells, in our hearts, and especially as followers of Jesus, we know that stuff isn’t a real solution. We’re reminded throughout the scriptures, and throughout Jesus’ teaching as we heard in today’s reading, that God has a better idea for us – that our peace, our fulfillment, our happiness, comes entirely through God’s mercy and unending love for us, poured out on us every day.

Of course, we all need some stuff, in order to get by and enjoy our lives, but because of this covenant relationship that God has made us a part of, we don’t have to be enslaved by it. We don’t have to be emotionally and spiritually impoverished by the pursuit of more and more things. Because of our covenant relationship with God, we can relax. We don’t have to get caught up in the constant burdensome cycle of working harder to buy more stuff, and then throwing 99% of it all out within six months’ time and having to work harder to replace that stuff that was perfectly fine that you just got rid of.

And the problem here isn’t just physical stuff, either. Here, as the church, for example, we can fall victim to what I’ll call the “consumption of concerns.” There is just so much need in the world – so many projects to do this good thing, or to work to stop this other bad thing, or to help this person, or to support this group, and we can fall victim to the idea that we have to just keep doing more and more and more stuff in order to get God’s approval or to really show that we’re good Christians. And sometimes, it can all just become exhausting.

Now, don’t misunderstand me, all of those things are important expressions of faith that we all need to be involved in. But sometimes, we also need to slow down, and relax. To realize that Jesus said “Come to me, all you who are carrying heavy burdens, and in me you will find rest.” He didn’t say “Come to me, all you who are carrying heavy burdens, and I’ll pile some more on your shoulders.”

Some of the subjects during our Lenten series have called us to action in a number of good and important ways. Today’s focus is in a different direction. It isn’t a call to more, but rather, to less. To buy less, and yes, from time to time, to also do less, in order to refocus on God’s immense, unending love. To remember how loved we are by God, and how God wants us to be at peace. To have contentment and fulfillment. To remember that in Christ, we find our peace. In Christ, we have our contentment. In Christ, we recognize just how immense our value is in God’s eyes.

So if that’s true – and I believe it is  – then take time during Lent to focus on where, and how, you feel a closer, deeper connection with God, in order to build on that sense of contentment. Were and when do you feel most connected with God? Is it a particular place? Is it with particular people that you love? Is it being *away* from other people, enjoying solitude? Is it in times of prayer and meditation? Is it a particular time of day, or doing a particular activity? When you do think about wherever and however you feel most connected with God, you’ll likely recognize that that connection really isn’t dependent upon your “stuff” at all.

And once you recognize how you connect more deeply with God, follow through with it. Don’t allow yourself to fall victim to society’s big lie; become a bit of a countercultural dissident yourself – find your self-worth and your spiritual satisfaction with God, and not a gift card. Take that personal “quiet time” in your day. Carve out more time to be with whoever the special people are in your life. Make that trip to that wonderful, special place where you always intensely felt God’s presence. And when you go, remember to pack your razor.

Thanks be to God.

*For more detail about some of the things I refer to in this sermon, see “The Story of Stuff,” a wonderful short video, at https://storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-stuff/

This Sermon Approved by Number 37

cattle and calf

(sermon 3/11/18)

Genesis 1:28-31

God blessed the human beings, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.

God saw everything that had been made, and indeed, it was very good. 

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Hannah, if I’ve done the math correctly, was about eight or nine years old when I first met her. She and her younger brother and her mother and father were members of the little southern Ohio church I first pastored. They lived on a farm, and they raised Angus cattle. Being a kid on a farm, you learn at a pretty young age that the livestock aren’t pets, and what their final destiny is going to be, so it isn’t wise to get too attached to any of them. They’re commodities, just identified by the number on the tags attached to their ears. But despite that, some animals do have a personality that makes them stand out from the others, and you do end up having favorites, and that was the case with Hannah this particular year and one of the herd. Well, time moved on, and the realities of raising Angus cattle continued, too. Sometime later that year, Hannah’s mother had made hamburgers for dinner, and Hannah got very upset. When her mother asked her what was wrong, she said “Oh, Mom – don’t tell me it’s Number 37!”

Hannah definitely had a good understanding of where her food came from – how it was produced, where it came from, every step of the process that led to it being on the dinner table. But most of us don’t have that kind of direct connection or understanding. At best, most of us have some vague assumptions about where our food comes from, and how it gets to us, but in most of our cases there are some pretty big gaps in our food awareness. There are a lot of details that we don’t know; and there are other things that we know enough to know that we don’t really want to know. Most of us, I suppose, have seen news stories or documentary films of the terrible conditions endured by calves, and chickens, and other animals in the mass production of our food. And we know that the people who grow, and pick, and process our food are often paid terribly, unsustainably low wages for what’s often backbreaking work. And we also know that these conditions exist in order for us, as consumers, to be able to buy our food at the absolute lowest cost possible – and really, who doesn’t like low prices?

Today’s reading from Genesis reminds us that according to the scriptures, our sacred story that shapes our faith and bonds us into a community, all of creation is God’s, not ours – and that God has instructed us, entrusted us, to care for it, and tend to it; to use it wisely to provide for us, and not to abuse or exploit it. I think it’s a shame that some people read that passage and latch on to those phrases to “subdue” and  to “have dominion over” creation, and mistakenly take it to mean that God told us we can do whatever we want with it – exploit it, trash it, even destroy it, because really, it doesn’t matter – when Jesus comes back he’ll set everything right again. It’s a shame, since this passage actually means the exact opposite of that.

We’ve been created by God in God’s own image, and that includes that part of God that creates, and cares for, and sustains. We discover another part of being created in God’s image just a little while later in Genesis, when we hear the story of Cain and Abel, and we’re told that according to God, yes, we are indeed expected to be our brother’s keeper, just as God is our keeper. Part of what it means to be created in God’s image is that we were created to tend and care for one another, and to do whatever is in our power to see that all of God’s people are treated fairly and justly.

So today, when food is the topic in our “Tread Lightly” Lenten series, I invite us all to consider that all of the decisions we make about our food actually come together to become a kind of statement of faith. Those decisions reflect what we believe about having been created in God’s image. They reflect the way we understand our place in creation, and not just being in it, but being part of it.

You heard some things from the youth today about the boycott that the Presbyterian Church endorses in order to get Wendy’s to agree to fair payment to the tomato growers who provide their restaurants with produce, trying to get them to sign on to the same fair-pay agreement signed by most, if not all of their competitors. You heard about the “Meatless Monday” movement, which would result in significant environmental benefit. There’s a movement that I’m sure Number 37 could get behind.

Beyond those things, we can be more mindful in general about buying foods that are locally and sustainably produced, cutting down on fossil fuel use and pollution caused by long-distance transport and environmentally-unfriendly production methods.

We should consider doing all those things, not just because this happened to be a topic on our Lenten calendar, not because they’re trendy, not because they might be considered “politically correct.” We shouldn’t do them just to show everyone that we’re nice, socially conscious, responsible people, although hopefully, we are. The reason we’re talking about this subject during Lent, as we’re engaged in self-reflection as we approach the cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter Sunday, and the reason we should make wise decisions about our food, is because it goes right to the core of what we believe about incarnation. I don’t mean the kind of incarnation of God in Jesus, but, through Jesus, the kind of incarnation of God in us. God dwells within each of us, and because of that, and out of gratitude for it, we’re called to use the thoughtfulness and compassion that God created in us to be God’s agents in creation – to help establish healing, and wholeness, and justice, for creation, and for all people wherever it’s lacking. To be part of that Hebrew concept of tikkun olam; mending or repairing the brokenness in the world. That’s all a part of the charge that God gave us in Genesis.

At one point in the gospels, Jesus tells us we’re the salt of the world, and warns us that salt is useless if it loses its flavor. Frankly, I think the bigger danger isn’t the salt losing its flavor, but rather, that the salt would just stay in the shaker and not seasoning anything, and just feeling proud of itself for being salt. So this Lent, let’s consider how we can be salt outside of the shaker. Let’s consider how making wise and ethical decisions about what food we will or won’t buy can be that salt, seasoning and adding flavor to the world, and to the lives of others.

Thanks be to God.

“I Owe You One”

(sermon 2/25/18 – Second Sunday in Lent)

loan approved

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

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When I first saw this week’s theme, debt, I cringed a little, because the first thing it made me think of was the kind of sermons popular in some settings that run something like “Six Steps to a Happier, Wealthier You;” or “Four Biblical Rules to Health and Prosperity;” or something similar. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think that Jesus wants us to be miserable, or unhealthy, or whatever; it’s just that I don’t think g that kind of self-help pseudo-therapy is quite what preaching is really meant to do. So that isn’t what’s going to happen this morning.

Still, debt is an important thing for us to consider as God’s people. The scriptures do, in fact, have quite a bit to say about it, both from the standpoint of being a borrower and a lender, and most of the time, what the Bible says about debt doesn’t exactly square with the way our culture tends to understand it or use it.

I admit that I didn’t look this statistic up, and I’m not sure where I’d go to find it anyway, but I’d be willing to bet that in this country, the single largest profit generator in our economy isn’t actually the making of any product, or the provision of a service, but rather, it’s the interest charged on loans to purchase those goods and services. They end up being just a means to the goal of financing the purchases, which is far more lucrative than just selling those goods or services outright. If I’m wrong, I apologize, but I’ll bet I’m not too far off the mark.

Debt itself isn’t inherently a bad thing. When we search the scriptures, we find advice to live modestly and within our means – or to use the terminology of this Lenten series, to “tread lightly” in the way we live, not ostentatiously, or wastefully, or exploitatively. That means that we should only use debt for certain types of things, and as little as we possibly can. I think we all recognize that incurring debt responsibly can be a positive thing. We take on deb for education, to improve ourselves and to learn skills that help us to make a better living. We take out a mortgage to own a home and build up wealth through home equity. These are good.

But there’s a dark side to debt, too. We can use debt to live beyond our means, or to just buy stupid things that we don’t need, and that only feed into our consumer-driven economy – and the idea that we should never be satisfied with what we have; we always need something newer, fancier, better looking, more, more, more. Taking on debt to do that can get us into all kinds of trouble.

This week, as we think about how we can personally tread as lightly and responsibly as possible, our of respect for our stewardship of creation, and of the financial resources God has entrusted to us, we can all examine how we’re using debt unnecessarily in our own lives. I don’t mean to be a complete buzzkill here, and frankly, I don’t think God wants to, either – we can all use debt occasionally to splurge on something special, as an exception; it’s just that we can’t allow the exception to be the rule.

As citizens of the Kingdom of God, we do have to look at how we use debt in those ways. A lot of conversations revolve around that kind of debt, and often people in the middle of extreme debt are all assumed to have just racked up debt foolishly, so there isn’t much compassion for them. But I think we also need to look at other kinds of debt, and to consider what our faith, what the scriptures say about it.  I’m talking about what I’ll call “desperation debt.” The kind of debt that you have to accept just in order to survive. When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, and maybe not even that, and you have to pay for some unexpected emergency expense – and you get sucked into the only kind of debt available to you – resorting to so-called “Payday lenders,” who lend money, legally, at an APR ranging anywhere from 500 to 4,000 percent. Or you face overwhelming medical bills to keep yourself or a loved one alive, and even assuming you have health insurance, the remaining balance you have to pay out of pocket is staggering, and you wipe out your savings and max out your credit cards, not because you want to, but because you have to. And under that burden, you struggle to not become another terrible statistic: even by the most conservative metrics, a full 25% of bankruptcies, 250,000 people, every year, are filed because of insurmountable medical debt – and that number may actually be as high as 60% of all bankruptcies, or 600,000 people per year. Christ calls us to be healers, but in our current system, we end up healing a body but destroying a life. Too often, in the end, on balance we haven’t healed anything; we’ve just shifted the kind and cause of death.

The scriptures do have advice regarding being a borrower. But the vast majority of scriptural references to debt have to do with being a lender. Requiring things like not charging interest on any loans. And beyond that, forgiving all debts every seventh year. And to not use manipulation and loopholes to get around the intent of these requirements. Don’t you wish your mortgage lender would practice that kind of “Biblical Christianity”? Can you imagine what that would do to our economy?

Well, I obviously don’t believe that as Christians, we have to call for the overthrow of the whole American economic system. But I do think that as Christians, there are some things that we are called to do, in order to achieve at least some of the goals of those kinds of biblical teaching on being a lender. Things like working to ban payday lender from legally charging interest rates that would make a Mafia loan shark blush. Or finding a way to put an end to people being bankrupted by medical bills, for even relatively common diseases and illnesses. I’m convinced that’s not what God would want from either our medical or economic systems. And I want to stress; this isn’t a political issue. I think we can all agree that the end goal of ending that “desperation debt” is a noble one, and one that our faith calls us to. We know we need to get from point A to point B. The specifics of how we get to point B is political, but agreeing that point B is the end goal isn’t. So however you might think the solution to that problem is best accomplished – whether it’s best done entirely through  the private sector, or entirely through the public sector, or some combination of the two, I think we can all agree that this “desperation debt” situation is not what God wants. I think we can all agree that God doesn’t want someone to be forced into financial ruin just because someone got sick, and that as a part of our faithful living as followers of Jesus, God would want us to work together to put that social brokenness – that social sin – to an end.

I believe that we need to do that, as part of our comprehensive, faith-based, scripture-based approach to debt, because we do know one thing: that debt is really just a softer, gentler form of slavery, and God’s will is that there would no longer be slave and free, only free. And that the only permanent debt that God wants us to have is a debt of gratitude, that comes from knowing that we have indeed been set free; that we are fully loved and fully accepted by God. And that out of that gratitude, we would work to help others, in the name of the one who first loved and helped us, to know that freedom, in every sense of the word, too.

Thanks be to God.

Make It So.

(sermon 2/18/18 – First Sunday in Lent – Scout Recognition Sunday)

Courier-Journal 2018-02-18

2 Corinthians 8:10-14

And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.

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If you saw the church’s email this week, you know that this Lenten season, our worship will be based on themes suggested by the 2018 Lenten Calendar issued by the Presbyterian Hunger Program. Our Creation Care Ministry Team first brought the calendar up for discussion, and after looking it over, it seemed like a good resource for us all to focus on during Lent. The calendar is really very good. Each week, there’s a scriptural reference lifting up a particular theme – some issue of how we might live in ways to help create a more just world, not only in terms of creation care but other related areas of justice, as well. The rest of the days of the week offer thoughts and questions for reflection, easy action items to do, and other things that are related to the weekly scriptural text and theme. Each Sunday in Lent, the preaching text will be that weekly scripture passage from the calendar, so using this Lenten calendar will be an easy way to relate what we get into on Sunday, throughout the following week. I hope that you’ll make use of this calendar; Thursday’s email included a link to download a copy of it, and if you can’t make that work, if you call the church office we’ll make sure you get a copy of it.

This first week’s topic is giving. Helping to create a more just world, in all the ways we talk about justice, is at the core of how we show gratitude to God for God’s goodness. It’s at the core of how Jesus teaches us to be his followers. Short of worship itself, it’s the primary way that we express our love for God. In fact, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that the actions that we take to create a more peaceful and just world for all of God’s people, and the creation that we’re part of, are themselves a form of worship.

In this part of Second Corinthians that we heard this morning, Paul points out that God wants us to give of ourselves, not out of a sense of burden – and certainly not out of some attempt to buy our salvation through good works – but rather, as an expression of our faith, and out of thanks for knowing that we’re already part of God’s beloved community. Paul lays out some fairly straightforward thoughts, that in this kind of giving out of thanks to God, it’s what’s in the heart that matters, not the actual numbers. He essentially says the same thing here that Jesus did when he pointed out the poor widow who dropped three pennies in the offering plate, saying that she’d given more than all the others who were better off – because they had all given only out of their surplus, but that she’d given all that she had.

When we think of giving, that’s usually what we picture – putting money in the plate. Mailing a check. Automatic Bill Pay. Maybe giving materials in kind. But there’s another way to think about our giving, too. How about the idea of giving to create a more just world, by buying the more expensive Equal Exchange coffee, or chocolate, that you know the producers are being paid fairly for? Or spending a bit more for produce that was grown without using dangerous pesticides that pollute the environment or wipe out the honey bee population, which all our agricultural industry depends on? Or making the upfront investment on energy-saving retrofits, to cut down on electricity produced by burning fossil fuels? Or spending more for clothing or shoes that you know weren’t made by children working as slave labor? I know as well as anyone else that those lower prices are tempting, but it really is important to us, as followers of Christ, to live in ways, including the way we spend our money, that help to eliminate injustice and to care for our creation however we can. And if we don’t act in ways that eliminate or minimize those injustices, then we become complicit in them.

But there’s another kind of giving, as a component of our faith, that Paul talks about in this passage, that I think we have to think about this morning. It’s the giving of our full attention to something. Giving our commitment to see something through. Paul says to the Christians in Corinth that if they’d set out to do something, or had even thought about doing it, that now was the time to follow through and finish it. Stop all the talking. Make it so. I’ll bet that the scouts here today have been taught the same thing in their training – to have the perseverance to see something through to its conclusion. Even if it’s hard, even if you hit obstacles, if it’s the good thing, the right thing, then push through and complete it.

We’re in a time now where we have some major incomplete business in our society. We come here today with our hearts grieving over the most recent mass school shooting, in Florida. We haven’t even fully processed the last school shooting, the one here in Kentucky just a month ago, and now we’re dealing with another one.

You know, in a sense there really aren’t any new arguments to make about this issue. There aren’t any new insights that haven’t been offered, over, and over and over again. After every single one of these tragedies, one group calls for stricter gun control laws, and says that the problem is caused by too many guns being available, and points out that an eighteen-year old can’t buy alcohol because we don’t believe they’re mature enough to use it responsibly; but they can buy an AR-15. Another group says it isn’t a gun issue at all, it’s really a mental health issue – that there were plenty of guns when they were growing up, and every kid had a gun or two and even on occasion brought them to school to show off, and these kinds of shootings weren’t taking place. Another group says it’s all because we’ve lost our moral compass as a society, and that we’ve failed to instill in people an understanding of the value of human life and human dignity, and that the violence that bombards us continually on television and online and in video games has morally desensitized us. We have become morally numb, morally tone-deaf; and if you need any evidence of that, all you have to do is look at the front of today’s Citizen-Journal – the Sunday after this terrible mass murder, they don’t see how morally reprehensible it is to wrap their paper in a four-page wraparound ad for rifles and handguns.

To be perfectly honest, each one of those issues has contributed to the situation. The problem is complex; there isn’t any one single fix – but in the middle of the bickering and arguing, *none* of the problems get addressed. Not only are our gun control laws not reasonably adjusted for better safety and protection of us all, some of the laws already in place have been cut back. And there really is no adequate mental health care delivery system in this country, but in the wake of any shooting-of-the-moment, no one seriously proposes any legislation to fix that problem.  So lines get drawn, and all the ugly stereotypes get dragged out. Gun owners are all a bunch of stupid redneck hillbillies who just want to go around shooting up stuff and don’t care about innocent lives being lost. People calling for better gun regulation are all a bunch of wussified libtards who don’t understand guns, who hate guns, or are afraid of guns, and who want to take away everyone’s guns and get rid of the Second Amendment. And in the end, everyone just gets mad at each other, and everyone keeps talking across one another, and not a single blessed thing gets done.

Stepping into that, you know that tonight we’re hosting a Community Conversation on Guns and Gun Violence – not  because we think we’re going to come up with some new argument, or some easy one-step-fixes-everything solution. We’re doing it so that all of us, who come to this problem from different vantage points, different beliefs, different backgrounds, can have a civil conversation. So we can grant good, noble intentions of the other. So we can honestly hear one another, and maybe, just maybe, as we see the goodness and good intentions and humanity of one another, we can find some common ground, and find some way to move the conversation forward.

Because it’s time – no, it’s way past time, that we come together as God’s people to demand an end to this craziness. This is not a partisan political issue; it’s a matter of being God’s agents of love in this world. It’s a matter of faith. And as a matter of faith, all of us have to demand that our leaders enact sensible legislation that addresses all sides of this complex problem – because the problem has to be solved. Close loopholes and fix problems in the current gun laws. Enact national policy that establishes adequate, affordable, accessible mental health care, and that most definitely makes it impossible for the dangerously mentally ill to have access to guns. As Paul advised the Corinthians, it’s time for our leaders, and for us as people of God, and the people who put those leaders in place, to finish doing this good, this right, this important thing. And Church, if our society is in a state of moral failing, it’s on us – not the government – to reinstill that respect for human dignity and human life, and helping people to see how we’re all created in God’s image, and worthy of love. So if you think the answer is better gun legislation, contact your members of Congress and tell them to get to work on it. Make it so. And if you believe that this is a mental health problem, then contact your members of Congress and tell them to get to work on that. We need to do this, because just as with other forms of our giving, if we can do something to help end an injustice, and we don’t do it, we become complicit in it.

God calls us, God leads us, God is begging us to do this – because just as every time one of these tragedies happen, and our hearts break, God’s heart breaks, too.

We need to work toward a time when people remember “active shooter drills” in schools as some odd thing from the past, the same way that we now think of the “duck and cover drills” that came before them. In the name of Christ, whose name we carry, we need to work to make the kind of peaceful and just society where the biggest thing these scouts have to worry about is who’s going to win the Pinewood Derby.  It’s time, and it’s our calling, to make it so.

Thanks be to God.