Lent: Permission to be Human

Lent is my favorite church season, it allows our feelings of the darkness that is happening on this inside to be experienced outwardly. It is the season where we stop pretending that faith is easy and we walk a line of doubt and belief.

From dust we came, to dust we shall return. 40 days where we let our mortality show, and honestly, let God’s mortality show, through Jesus. During Christmas we emphasize how he was born of a woman and came to earth both fully human and fully God. We talk details about how fragile a baby he was, like any other. However, when you mix his birth story with the sensational story of his conception the human part of the story gets overshadowed (see what I did there…).

It’s the same thing with Easter. When we only focus on the sensational story of the resurrection, we miss the humanity of it all.

On the night of his arrest when the meal was over, Jesus walks into the garden, and he asks his companions to stay awake a while and pray with him. He goes a little farther in and prays to God. “Please don’t make me do this. Please.” He wails and gnashes his teeth, and pleads for his life. He does this three times and in between he finds his friends sleeping.

He is not whining, and I abhor the version where the “devil” is tempting him (in John’s gospel). Because it is this moment, here, why I am a follower of Jesus Christ today.

When I was in college I was a religious studies minor. I learned about God in all forms. I loved reading the sacred texts from different world religions and people’s experience of them. I liked to think through the implications of the belief that all things are sacred from different languages and different parts of the world.

After this, I asked myself, “Why do I want to be Christian when I see God in all these religions?”

I thought about where I had come from and what my history was, does it make sense for this Irish-German American to be a Buddhist? Then I didn’t care what it would look like. Then I cared again. Not so much the “look” from other people, but if I found the Sacred in many forms, why not go with the one my heritage taught? But I still needed one to “hook” me, I needed a passion for one religion over another and heritage wasn’t enough.

Finally, I got to the point where I asked, “What do I want most from God? What is the thing God can give me that the world cannot?”

The answer was fairly simple, it was the thing I had sought most in life: To be understood and accepted.

This wasn’t so much about church or community, I was seeking God, something more than humanity. I do not claim the yoke of Calvinism often, but I do when it comes to the sinfulness of humanity. I do believe in the human capacity for greatness, for goodness, but I also believe that it is we who create the bad in the world, not God.

As I sought acceptance and to be understood from humanity I found myself continually let down. Which is not those people’s fault as much as that gift can only come from God. We are all, if we know it or not, walking around trying to cope with being mortal.

In order to receive all my credits for the degree I had to take a class in Christianity. I had already received my call to seminary and was on my way. (I know it feels like I had done this backwards, but faith and life plans don’t always work together.) And so the only class available to me was Introduction to New Testament.

My faith had grown, I knew who I was, I knew who God was, and I was trying to reconcile the two. It was about this time of year when we were making our way through Matthew’s gospel. And there it was…

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;[e] the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” -Matthew 26:36-46

The world felt like it paused for a moment. I sat in awe. I wept.

Jesus, son of God, Word of God, the voice of God on earth, who came to earth so God may know us better, just did the thing I needed him to do the most. He grieved, he was scared, he was let down, he felt alone.

Now that’s a God I can get behind. That’s a God who gets me. That’s a God who will understand and accept me because in the end these moments are not weakness but strength, and this Christ knows it.

This story is read at the end of every Maundy Thursday service in my church, one of the last days of Lent and I weep every time I hear it.

It makes my experience of life and this world so fully understood and accepted. And I could not ask for more from my Savior.

I do not know what this Lenten season will hold. The world seems so dark. I do know that I will ask questions and explore my mortality through prayer that may include wailing and agitation and gnashing of teeth and that’s okay, after all, if it’s good enough for Jesus…

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Reconciling Jesus

Here’s how my sermon prep really goes. I read the text, I pick liturgy and hymns a few months in advance, then I don’t really look at it again until the week of. Then I read commentaries are the text works on me (yes, works on me) through the Holy Spirit all week. I look for stories and modern day examples to use, but don’t write a lot of words down, maybe an outline.

I knew this week would be hard because it’s the first time divorce has come up in the lectionary since I’ve been divorced. I looked at past sermons, wow… did I not have a clue how hurtful this text was.

So, here’s my sermon from today, the congregation loved it but so did I. I took a deep breath and disagreed with Jesus. Then, I decided to reconcile with him too. God is not black and white friends, and we can’t take scripture that way either.

Have a listen:

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A Reoccurring Theme

I have told the story before, of how I became a follower of Christ. I was studying world religions in college, I connected with all of them. The respect for life in Jainism, the compassion of Buddhism, and the connection to the earth in Native American Spirituality. I really wasn’t sure about this Christian thing.

However, I was pulled and pulled back to Christianity, if felt inauthentic to be anything else. I was a  middle class, suburban white girl with an Irish/German heritage. Be Buddhist? yeah, I knew what I thought about those people. (judge me all you want for thinking this, but I did). Eastern Religious philosophy was at it’s height in making it’s way into American pop culture, and after spending some time with the sacred texts I got even more self-righteous about being authentic to my native religion. If only I could connect to it in some personal way. I found God in all the texts and none of the texts, so what made Christianity so special?

Then I found it.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” … “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” -Matthew 26:36-46 (excerpts)

If Jesus, the Savior, the Messiah, the Son of God, whom we worship and adore could, in his most vulnerable moment, doubt. Ask God to stop this terrible, terrible thing from happening to him. Be strong enough in his faith and his trust in God to ask, beg, and plead to be saved from the terrible betrayal human do to one another, then that is a God I understand.

God says no, of course, and Jesus begins the journey we call “The Passion” narrative. First, he is betrayed by Judas with a kiss on the cheek, then by Peter where he denies knowing Jesus, three times.

We all know what happens next, Jesus is crucified although committed no crime. His last words are ones where he asks forgiveness for his betrayers and killers. Then God breaks the cycle of sin and shame and gives a big middle finger to the betrayers of the world through resurrection. I love every bit of the story and it’s symbolism. However, as I grow older the stories of Jesus, the stories of my spiritual journey change.

When I was a teenager I needed to be understood, more than anything in the world. I sought to understand, I learned everything I could, I became an active listener, I taught, but I desperately wanted someone to understand me. The story of Jesus in the Garden echoed that need.

Yet, here we are 20 years later and my needs have changed, and thus, the story that draws me in to my faith.

This summer I’ve been working through some of the hundreds of questions Jesus asked in his ministry, some are familiar and others more obscure. As I wrote the liturgy for the summer one stuck out to me, surprised me, and reminded me of the longing I had years ago for a God who “got me.”

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.” -John 21:15-19

First, let me say, I feel like Jesus is Eliza Doolittle and Peter is Freddy Eynsford-Hill from My Fair Lady. Think about while you watch this…

Jesus teaches us forgiveness all throughout his ministry, but as much as the disciples are, at times, downright idiots and very frustrating companions, they don’t really do anything wrong. Person after person asks Jesus for “how to” and “WWJD” scenarios about forgiveness and he tells them to forgive an infinite number and tells the story of the Prodigal Son.

But again, I want to follow a God who isn’t just words, and I believe that God expects the same from me. This brings us to Peter. Jesus trusts Peter with everything, he is the rock on which the church will be built. Jesus hands Peter his baby and says, “raise it like your own”.

When he is resurrected he first seeks reconciliation with Peter. Peter, who made the ultimate betrayal. “Peter do you love me?” “Yes Lord, you know I do!!!” Peter is insistent and downright angry for being asked such a question. He knows he is in the wrong and is so frustrated with himself, how could he have messed up so badly? Stupid, stupid, stupid!

And, like Eliza, Jesus responds with, “then show me.”

Love as I have loved, nurture the poor in spirit, humble yourself. You have my grace, my mercy, and even forgiveness, now it’s your turn to show me I was not wrong about you. Have as much faith in yourself, as I have in you. Follow me.

Faith is a wonderful thing. I love God, I love Jesus, I love my neighbors, but if I neglect for one minute to feed and tend and nurture than I have betrayed Jesus all over again. I do not worry about his grace being extended, this is his promise, but faith demands action, Jesus demands action, not just words.

 

Beloved

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About a year ago a parishioner asked to see me after worship. We went into my office after most people had left and seemed nervous.

I have a lot of respect for this woman. When I first came to the church we met together and through tears she said, “I wanted to be a support to you. I really believe something special is happening and I want to be part of it.”

She wrote me notes through my divorce voicing love and support. In summertime she brings me beautiful flowers from her garden. She feels deeply, and is aglow with the spirit every time I see her.

She also carries struggle and hardship like any of us do. She wears her heart on her sleeve, but privately. She cries or laughs during sermons and I know it’s all genuine.

So here we were, alone in my office and she looks down at her hand. She told me that one day she was in a Christian Bookstore, and checking out next to the register was this small pile of rings. It almost called to her.

She bought this thin piece of silver with “Jesus”printed around it separated by the Jesus fish. It was on her finger and she was fiddling with it.

“I love this ring and I don’t want to give it up, I don’t know why, but God calling me to give it to you.”

I’ve been in this moment, I know what it’s like. God told me to do something but when I speak it out loud I worry that it would seem trite, or the person would reject my gift meaning I got the message wrong.

I took the ring, thanking her, I believed that she had a call to give it to me.

She told me that when she put it on each day she would just do it and walk out the door. Then she remembered that some days she would notice that she really needed God and would observe that “Jesus” was pointed at her so she could read it, and other days it was pointed outward so if she placed her hand out to another, they would be able to read “Jesus” and on these days she would pay attention on where others needed the love of God.

At that time in my life there was no question I needed Jesus. So I purposefully for a while put it on my hand facing me. Then I noticed slowly that I wasn’t paying as much attention in the morning, and sometimes it would face me and other days it would face the world. I remember my friend’s observation.

I would smile.

About a week ago God told me it was time to give my ring away. “no, I told God, I love this ring and I don’t want to give it up.”

I have been wearing it on my left hand ring finger, where my once wedding ring used to sit. I would wear it along with a ring my best friend gave me and it was a reminder that I was not alone, that I was someone’s beloved.

It reminded me, in the loneliest of moments that I belonged and was deeply loved. By friends and a community.

It’s been a week since God wrote on my heart a name of a woman who now needs it. I wish I could give it to her in person, but I will have to mail it, and this morning I asked for her address. I wanted to write this for two beautiful women today. One who God worked through to remind me I was beloved when I felt unlovable and one who God wants to know is lovable and beloved.

I pray she feels the sense of belonging I felt when wearing it. I pray that when she no longer needs it, even though that may not be until her dying day, that God will write on her heart who might need it next.

Thank you Kimbrea, I love you too. Rebecca, here you go sweetheart, I love you.

Betraying for Jesus

We just finished the second season of Daredevil on Netflix. (It was amazing by the way, and I promise no spoilers) Although almost all superheros have a religious theme of the fight between good and evil, Daredevil is explicitly religious. Daredevil has a code of ethics. He’s Roman Catholic and was raised in an orphanage, he wants justice, but through the system. This season The Punisher shows up, the inevitable question is asked. Can people really change?

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What’s interesting about that question for me is that we only ask that question when people are “bad”. We ask “can a corrupt person ever really be good?” We don’t ask, “can a good person ever become corrupt?” Because we don’t have to, we assume/know that there is something in all of us that given the right about of pressure could take over.

Daredevil uses violence, but there is a moral code, no murder, he will allow the courts to decide their fate. The Punisher believes that some people are so corrupt they can never change, and therefore the only way to rid the world of their evil is to kill them.

The Punisher has always been an interesting character, he is a killer, a murderer, but is he a “bad guy”? He refuses to kill innocent people. Yet, he is taking justice into his own hands, he is their jury, sentencer, and executor. There are no second chances with The Punisher, you’re bad, you die. (side note, the Atlantic has a GREAT article on The Disturbing Appeal of The Punisher, you should read it)

With that…let’s turn to our absurd scripture of the day, shall we?

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.”The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking.

“It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.

After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” – John 13:21-27 edited

AWE, DAMN! Judas done got CALLED OUT!

No seriously folks, what a craptastic thing to do Jesus! Totally not cool.

Like I talked about in my post Schadenfreuden for Jesus, I feel like Judas gets a really bad rap. It is a well known assumption in our faith that Judas is corrupt beyond help, he cannot be good. But when you read this text in John, one could argue he was a pawn for God.

Now, I don’t like this theory, that God needed the blood and the violence, this makes me feel very uncomfortable about the implications that has for God. I also can’t get behind a “devil made me do it” mentality. We make our own choices and should take responsibility for them.

With that being said- we wrestle. We can choose light (God) or we can choose dark (evil). Judas is in a spiritual crisis, I think this much is obvious. It’s been 3 years. 3 years of following Jesus around, they’re tired, they’re struggling for money. Not to mention, they’re in A LOT of trouble with the authorities.

I don’t just think it’s a spiritual crisis, I think it’s an existential one too. What am I doing with my life? Is this really where I’m supposed to be? Couldn’t I be doing more for the poor by serving on the streets, opening a food bank or a shelter, I mean Jesus has all the power, what I am doing, really?

In the midst of this wrestling, Jesus, whom you love and trust, but who you are starting to question totally calls you out in front of everyone and something in you snaps. “Fine! I’m done!” John says Satan or “an adversary” (Greek translation) enters him.

You can image, I don’t buy into Satan as a person or “fallen angel” but evil existing? Yes. A moment when you are so overwhelmed that you decide that you’ve had enough and you snap and allow evil to take over and you stupidly react about that?

Yeah. I get that.

Peter denies out of fear and we forgive him. Thomas doubts for good reason and we forgive him. James and John are just flat out selfish at times and we forgive them.

But betrayal is different, that is unforgivable…

I really wonder what The Punisher would do with Judas.

 

Schadenfreuden for Jesus

Today in our Holy Week Sermonette, we turn to John 12. Where Jesus says something that we idiots turn into one of the stupidest things I have ever heard. Let’s open our hymnals:

Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” John 12:3-8 (edited)

First, I want to recognize that even though the gospel of John says that Judas doesn’t care about the poor only money, I will also say this. Judas was the treasurer of the group. He was responsible for feeding and clothing all these followers. He was the one who had to make sure they had enough.

I’m going to speculate something. I don’t know that Judas was the devil we make him out to be. Here we have a story of Judas concerned about finances, the next thing that happens is he betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Maybe, MAYBE he wouldn’t have had to do that… MAYBE they really needed the money. I mean how was he supposed to know?

You can feed your people if you just tell me his location… That’s it.

Anyway, Jesus responds by saying, you will always have the poor, but you will only have me for a little while. Someone (Mary) is giving Jesus a gift. A very, VERY generous gift. And he lets her. There’s a lesson in that for all of us.

However, we are dumb and stupid, and we twist Jesus words into saying “there’s nothing we can do about the poor! Jesus said there will always be poor people, it’s just the way it is.”

We take this to heart so much that our “Christian Nation” has responded by making sure there will always be poor

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Not only do we make sure there will always be poor,  but we demonize them for being poor.(BTW for scripture buffs, here’s where I want John’s gospel to do commentary for us. “He said this to fulfill the empire’s policies on making sure the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”)

A few years back I lived in the capital of New York when Occupy Wall Street happened. It was exciting, it was amazing, it was finally a conversation about the corrupt system, and banks getting bailouts while their CEO’s got billions in bonuses. It was justice and conversation from ENRON. AND… it was also an opportunity to bash those seeking an honest wage for all people.

“Get a job” was yelled by just about everyone who walked by, in a suit. “Get a job” was yelled over and over by successful, white men. Did they not understand that most of these people could not get a job? Or if they had one, they were the working poor?

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I’ve been lucky enough to have a full time job most of my adult life, but both my husband and my current partner have been or are unemployed for long stretches of time. Don’t you think they want a job you idiot? Why do you think they are protesting?

You will always have the poor is Jesus telling Judas that we must spend time with the ones we love while we have the time, before they’re gone. It is NOT a celebration or glorification that we should always have poor, that we should keep some people down, rejoicing in their misfortune because we built the system and got lucky enough to not be one of them.

There will always be poor among us, as long as we let there be.

 

Thieving for Jesus

This week I’ll be writing a blog on each day of Holy Week, a “sermonette” I can’t preach from the pulpit but one that I can to you crazy people! And by “can’t” I simply mean I won’t but I do think the majority of the congregation I serve would find it hilarious if I did.

I want to talk a little about this donkey Jesus requests here for a moment.

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.- Luke 19:29-35

Okay, imagine this… you’re hanging with your homies at your house and you say to two friends, “run across the street and take my neighbor’s car.”

“WHAT?!? NO!”, your homie exclaims.

“No it’s fine, if they ask you why, tell them it’s for Jesus.”

“OH, OKAY…” homies say complete with eye roll, “you crazy!”

I mean seriously. I am down with the miracles, I mean Jesus does some crazy stuff in the gospels. On Sunday I’ll exclaim belief in a bodily resurrection, but you are hard pressed to convince me that anyone, anywhere would allow you to take their property because “Jesus needs it.”

And yet… There’re these people…

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I mean, if someone’s driving away with my brand new donkey that’s never been ridden and I say, ummmm…. exsqueeze me, whatya doing? I want my donkey back!

“no, no, Jesus needs it.”

I’m calling the police!

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I’m not sure what processes Jesus to ask for such a thing. Really, I mean is this a frat house prank, a gang initiation. Or does he know he’s about to die and just not care. Is the next town over Mary and Martha? And if it is, why didn’t he just say, “go hit up Lazarus for a donkey, he owes me one after that raising from the dead thing.”

Sometimes scripture is just weird. The whole thing is weird. Palm Sunday was a political protest. Jesus is mocking politics of Jerusalem, which actually is the least weird thing about this story.

But seriously Jesus, what does it say that we have such specific details about where this donkey came from? Is stealing the donkey all part of the mockery? Did you steal it from a rich person? Did they have to do it over cover of darkness? But the owner stopped them? I mean, WHAT IS SO SPECIAL ABOUT THIS DONKEY?

I will never know the answer to these questions, nor do I really want to. Some parts of scripture I like to remain a mystery. But I will say this, don’t try this at home…

 

Why Couldn’t We?

There’s a story in the scriptures that haunts me. (okay, more than one) but this one I return to time and time again. Here is an excerpt:

 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

“You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

Mark 9:14-29 haunts my dreams. I am possessed by a demon, one since childhood. It’s fear. I have spent countless therapy sessions and spiritual direction session trying to overcome this fear. I have spent years, decades, attempting to drive it out.

Fear can manifest itself in many, many ways. Too many to count. We have individual fears and communal fears. Our parents use fear in positive and negative ways to teach us lessons. Our teachers use fear to motivate us. Politicians use fear to manipulate us. We turn our fear on each other and act out in ways that hurt ourselves and others.

Then we rationalize it, say it’s to keep us safe. We say it’s for our own good, protecting us from harm.

I have attempted every way possible to drive out this demon over the years but have always fallen short.

As a minister I believe in the grace and mercy of God, of second chances (or third, fourth, well an infinite number) but as a human being who has for so long been possessed by fear it seem impossible to drive out.

I return to Mark 9 over and over again and am haunted by this exchange.

There are so many angles to this story I could preach on it for years, but where I lie today is at the disciples feet.

“Why couldn’t we drive it out?” They ask.

This is an all too familiar question. Why can’t I just make this go away. Why can’t we just stop acting out of fear, or better yet having fear at all? How do I stop this demon from controlling my life, where’s my magic wand, where’s my ability to drive this out for myself?

Jesus’ answer is one of the most frightening things I have ever heard. “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

It knocks the wind out of me. I ward off a panic attack. It’s the most frightening thing I’ve ever heard.

Why can’t we? Why can’t I do it? Why can’t I drive out the demon of fear in me that rears its ugly head when things should be left alone? Why can’t it’s demon twin anxiety leave me the hell alone? Why can’t we as a society recognize when it takes possession of us and we fling them into the abyss before we fall to the ground foaming at the mouth?

Jesus’ answer? Because this kind can come out only by prayer.

Do you know how terrifying that is? Fear is fed by our ego, our need to be in control, our need to be superior, and honestly for me, the insecurity that comes with being human and having relationship with other broken people.

Sometimes the motivation to not exercise the demon is masked in the rationalization of protecting ourselves. Just today there is fighting using fear as “protection” in our country over guns, Muslims, refugees, and immigrants. We have a war on women, a war on drugs, and must proclaim on a regular basis that #blacklivesmatter because equality is still a figment of our imagination. The amount of oppression we dawn as “protection” is just a way of feeding that demon of fear.

So why can’t we? Why can’t I?

“This kind can come out only by prayer” Jesus says. Love conquers all. I have to learn to trust myself before I can trust my neighbor. I have to first learn to trust God before I can trust myself.

I am ready to turn this demon over to God. I am ready to give it up in my personal life. I am ready to stop hurting myself and those that I love by pretending to protect when really I am hurting.

I suspect there will be regression and I ask for forgiveness in advance, but there it is, Jesus, I can’t do it alone, will you help me? Will you help my unbelief?

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Murder in the First

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Warning Religious Political Rant coming in 3…2…1 *steps onto soapbox*

Here’s my problem. I don’t give a shit if the Pope met with Kim Davis. I don’t care about her or her bigotry, I really haven’t given her much of a thought since she stepped down, I don’t read the articles. I grew up in Kentucky, she is far from alone in her thoughts, she is far from alone in thinking she is above the laws of this country or the laws of ethics (which I believe are also the laws of God.) She is not alone in believing that God justifies her hate. In so many ways I am a progressive pastor and all the hardship that comes with ministry because of people like Kim Davis.

There is another way. My life’s call is to preach the gospel: God is love.

As a minister we have a responsibility to show that God is not a God of hate and judgement in the ways WE determine. I use the Pope here as an example because the Pope is the head of the largest group of Christians in the world, and according to their beliefs his word is the word of God, and therefore, his actions.

As a protestant I do not believe this, however, in the protestant world there is no equivalent, so like it or not, when the Pope speaks and acts in the world, he is representing my faith.

So here’s my problem: I don’t give a shit about the Pope and Kim Davis, I think his advisers were stupid to schedule that meeting, but I really don’t care. I do give a shit that he was in the US while the state of Georgia was in the last days of decision over executing a woman and only make a statement about it, while meeting with a woman (Kim Davis) who’s faith is the definition of hypocrisy.

Instead of a statement about Kelly Gissendaner, why did the pope not attend the execution? Why does this pope- who almost 75% Protestants love, who we share video after video of him stopping to bless the sick, who we share quote after quote about loving the poor, not take the precious moments to speak with a woman moments away from death? Not simply to say it’s wrong for the state to kill people but to show the priority that people are important? Life is sacred.

This week the State of Georgia committed First Degree Murder. They willfully and premeditated a taking of another human being’s life, a creature of God. As they strapped her to a table and shoved needles into her arm. As they did she apologized, she sang Amazing Grace, then they injected her with a series of deadly poisons to stop her heart, until her body was limp and void of life.

Shame on us, all of us. I pray that God is as gracious as I preach, I pray that God is as forgiving as I claim. Shame on us. May God have mercy on our souls.

*steps off soapbox*

Fine Print: These rantings are the opinion of myself, and myself alone, they do not represent Ashland Presbyterian Church or the Presbyterian Church USA or any board that I serve on or represent at any given time. Or at least my lawyer tells me to say that. PS- I don’t have a lawyer. 

Leadership is for Wimps

“Leadership is for wimps.” This was part of a text conversation I had a few mornings ago. Tripp Hudgins, Jeff Richards and I were talking about leadership. The glory of it all… HA! “Leadership is for wimps,” Tripp replies.

This is the opposite of what we are told and taught. However, that doesn’t make it less true.

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Jesus came to turn everything on it’s head. The last shall be first, etc. Was Jesus a leader? Yes. Was he a wimp? No. But he wasn’t in the leadership roles of the day. Next week I will read the story of the passion where Pontius Pilate will wash his hands of the death of Jesus. He found nothing wrong with this man, Jesus had broken no law according to Pilate, yet he washes his hands rather than stand up to the religious leaders and the crowd that are demanding Jesus’s head. Wimp.

Leadership the way it has been established in our systems is for wimps, the faint of heart, cowards. People who do not have enough gumption of their own to stand up for justice that they hide behind systems, offices, and titles. This system is set up for leadership to use and abuse power, hide behind power. When you give someone power enough to make decisions on behalf of someone else without needing or requesting their input it is easier than not to get drunk on the “authority” that has been given.

Throughout the story of Jesus he is watched, closely, by leadership. According to Matthew at his birth the Leadership was terrified of him they slaughtered all male children under the age of 2. He is questioned and attempted to be tricked time and time again throughout his ministry. I can hear the priests behind locked doors asking “how can we trust him when he isn’t one of us?” Wimps.

Finally, they can’t control him and it drives them so crazy they move into intimidation and bribery. After his arrest he is passed from up the ladder of leadership, each one not wanting to be the one who is responsible for an innocent man’s life, yet not risking anything to stop it. Wimps, passing the buck.

In the questioning of Jesus by Pilate Jesus says that his authority is of Heaven, not of earth. He is a leader the way God calls us to be. We refer to it as “Servant Leadership.” Matthew 20:28 Jesus says he came not to be served but to serve and give his life for many.

Servant leadership is a model of giving away power and authority you have been given. Using your gifts and skills for the betterment of the world, empowering others, leading others to power so they too can give it away. There are many, many problems with this in our world. First, empowering others is true power, power in community, power to stand up for one another and say stop, enough. If you hurt one of us, you hurt us all. We celebrate together, we mourn together, we pray together. And it terrifies wimps.

Second, when you use your leadership to give power away and create community you often times lead by example. There’s a lot of grunt work involved, there’s a lot of moments where you take a punch because your job is to stand between systemic power and those whom they are hurting. You live with a target on your back as the one who created an uprising.

But this kind of leadership is strength. It is the strength of faith, of community, and the reign of God on earth. This type of leadership is what allows movements and communities to keep going long after one leader is gone. We may be betrayed for it, we may be flogged for it, we may even be killed for it. But I’d rather die in servant leadership than be a wimp.

The disciples (not just the 12 but all the followers of Jesus) took too long to learn this lesson. They didn’t really learn until after the resurrection. Fear overtook them when their time came to stand up. We can learn from this, we can ratify their mistake. We can stand empowered today as servant leaders, in communities of other servant leaders, each according to their own gifts, united in strength.

Thanks be to God. Amen.