Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ash Wednesday on Valentine's Day

I cannot ever remember experiencing an Ash Wednesday on Valentine’s Day.

As I sat with the idea, I thought of a strange “what if.”  What if (and please let me play this out before moving to outrage) we made Ash hearts on our foreheads to start Lent?  

Consider the symbolic, metaphoric, and more-than-literal possibilities by such a declaration.

There are the metaphoric heart conditions: 

Hearts a fire…Hearts ablaze…
There is metaphoric action of the heart:  
From the Ashes to Go service, “We take to heart God’s call to repentance and the assurance of forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel, and practice in our lives the work of reconciliation.”
There is metaphoric transformation of the heart:  
Hearts of stone to hearts of flesh.  New and contrite hearts.
And then, the heart as love:
Jesus in the Gospel of Mark:  “The Lord our God, the Lord is one;  you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength….You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Mark 12:29-31) 

Or perhaps even more concise, Jesus in The Gospel of John:  “Love one another as I have loved you." (John 15:12)

An ash heart would work…and might be better understood by the world.

However, the cross is our “Heart of Christianity,” to invoke the title of Marcus Borg’s best known book.  The cross is the more-than-literal heart of our faith.  The true impact of ash and the cross are revealed in Paul’s writings, as explored by Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book “The First Paul”.

The Cross — The Roman imperial reaction to the love taught and lived out by Jesus.

The Roman cross is the brutal, violent action of an unjust execution.

But we Christians, see in crucifixion the depth of God’s love for us as revealed in God’s son…who died not in our place for sin, but died because of his love for God’s people and his passion for a different kind if life for all of God’s creation.  (see “The First Paul”, p. 142)

The meaning of resurrection then becomes clear.  Where the Romans sought to disparage and disgrace, we see new, sacred life:  Jesus is Lord…Caesar is not (be it the Caesar of then, or the Caesars of today).  

Peace and love and non-violence and justice, summed up as God’s righteousness, is to be distributed to and for everyone.

Ashes are an outward and visible sign of the transformation that we are called to be part of:  active participants in God’s creation of a transformed world.

This is the way for God, and the way for Jesus, and the way for us.

(Thanks to Shannon and Rhonda who helped me create the image.)

Monday, September 18, 2017


A riff off of yesterday’s sermon on Matthew 18:21-35, in the midst of yet again removing safeguards from Americans' healthcare:  

How does one…a slave no less…come to owe ten thousand talents (the guesstimates of such a sum in modern terms range from over a million to multiple millions of dollars)?  

Perhaps by living in a society where the system of power leads to terrible injustice.  I imagine where a king has the sole ability to pass judgement and forgive out of his abundance:  and then hold everyone to his standard of “forgiveness” even though the system remains corrupt. 

Or maybe a society where being born with complications to a family without healthcare leads to unplayable amounts of debt?  Or an endless series of all to imaginable healthcare complications in one's lifetime that leads to drowning in bills?   

Only one person forgives anyone in Jesus’ story:  the king.  He forgives only once, then acts in anger and condemns the person to perpetual torture for failure to “forgive” like the powerful king that he has nothing in common with at all.

What was Jesus really trying to teach his disciples after first saying they must forgive “seventy-seven times” and then telling this story?

Friday, November 25, 2016

Post-Election sermon 2016

Are you kidding me?

Real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump was caught on tape bragging about grabbing women.  He claims a judge cannot do his job because his parents are from Mexico and thus biased against Trump.  He received universal condemnation for verbally attacking a gold star family, and suggested that women accusing him of sexual assault must be lying because they aren't attractive enough to interest him.  

The nicest way to sum up the man is that he is a bully:  and that bully will be the next President of the United States.  And on the Sunday after he is elected, our three-year cycle lectionary gives us an apocalyptical text with destruction, false leaders, division and persecution….

You have got to be kidding me.

So what is a preacher to do on such a Sunday?  One road is “God in charge”.  Well meaning, faithful people express this reality as the ultimate statement of faith that God is in charge despite all the uncertainty found in the world.  And there is truth to be found in the statement.  There are two critical problems, however, for this to be the focus of a sermon today.  When those who are worried and frightened hear someone say “God in charge”, it feels like a dismissal of their fears with a platitude.  The other problem with “God is on the throne” is the critical truth that God was “in charge” though some of the worst moments in human history:  the Crusades, the Holocaust, slavery.  “God is in charge” sounds like God had the power to stop these things, and chose not to.  God has asked humanity to be heart and hands in this world, and where we fail it is on us. God weeps, and can only promise that in the midst of the ashes of destruction, new life will happen….

I will not take this sermon time to explore how this election happened:  what could have been done differently, or what caused the outcome.  Nor will I suggest what Trump supporters agree and disagree with concerning their candidate.   But it is a true statement that there is a significant portion of the country who had their misogyny, their racism, their hatred for other religions and for LGBTQ persons affirmed and emboldened by the results of this election.  

An Episcopal priest in Iowa found a graphic, threatening note towards his sexuality on his car.

In Wisconsin, a girl had to hit a boy who tried to grab her in the crotch at school--he was trying to demonstrate that 'what Donald did is no big deal'. 

Flyers appeared on the Texas State campus which read:  ”Now that our man TRUMP is elected and republicans own both the senate and the house — time to organize tar & feather VIGILANTE SQUADS and go arrest & torture those deviant university leaders spouting off all this Diversity Garbage.”

At Canisius College in Buffalo, New York a black baby doll was hung by a noose in a dorm elevator

A report filed to the Southern Poverty Law Center from Colorado detailed how the words “Death to Diversity” was written on a banner displayed on a school library, and that white male students were going up to women saying it was now “legal to (sexually) grab them”. 

A baseball dugout in Western New York was spray-painted with a swastika and the words "Make America White Again". 

Spray paint on a car here in Utah for its owner to die for being gay…

The Rev. Jacqueline Cameron writes that “These are NOT little things. They are not isolated events. Admittedly, they were part of our culture before the candidacy and election of Donald Trump, but his words and actions--as well as the words and actions of some of his supporters…have led many to believe that this sort of thing is normal or not a big deal, or that those on the receiving end should just shut up and deal with it.

A Facebook post attributed to Michael Rex says this is why people are protesting on social media and in the streets:

“The people aren't just angry or sad that someone they didn't support won the election, they're scared.
They're black Americans who hear talk of law and order and remember a racially charged stop and frisk program, or see an emboldened KKK holding a celebratory parade. 
They're Muslim Americans who worry that spitting in their face is now okay and violations of their rights to assemble and their rights to privacy are about to come. 
They're LGBT Americans who fear not just of the loss of marriage rights or restaurants gaining the right not to serve them, but of an administration that thinks it's more important to research electrocuting the gay out of them than AIDS. 
They're Hispanic and Latino Americans who are scared their children will be bullied in schools, and their families ripped apart while their culture is mocked. 
They're women who are wondering if we've normalized groping, and if their career endeavors will be judged by their face and body, and not their minds.”
This brings us to a second area that is likely expected to be preached by a preacher:  the question of unity.  Those who know me well know that unity, even in our difference, is critically important.  To quote my favorite band, “We’re one, but we’re not the same.”  But unity is a complex subject in these times…
Paddy Foran, a teacher I know at The White Mountain School, wrote this on Facebook:
“For so many it's not as simple as just accepting the results of the election. Are people of color, Muslims, immigrants, Jews, women etc. etc. etc. just supposed to ignore all that was said during the campaign? Take a quick look at what has already transpired in schools across this country - the hate and violence is real. If you feel like you can afford to hope for the best and wait it out until 2018 or 2020 I bet I can guess your race and likely your gender as well. Stop for a moment and imagine how the lives and post-election experiences of People of Color, Muslims, immigrants etc. might be different from yours. We do very much need unity. Unity however, does not mean silent complacency. We must unite to protect all people in this country as well as our Constitution and the institutions that make the United States of America all that it is, has been and can be."

Senator Elizabeth Warren, often mockingly referred to as “Pocahontas” by Trump, had similar words of caution concerning unity:

”Today, as President-Elect, Donald Trump has an opportunity to chart a different course: to govern for all Americans and to respect our institutions. In his victory speech, he pledged that he would be “President for all” of the American people. And when he takes the oath of office as the leader of our democracy and the leader of all Americans, I sincerely hope that he will fulfill that pledge with respect and concern for every single human being in this country, no matter who they are, no matter where they come from, no matter what they believe, no matter whom they love. 
(But we) will stand up to bigotry. There is no compromise here.  In all its forms, we will fight back against attacks on Latinos, African Americans, women, Muslims, immigrants, disabled Americans-on anyone.  Whether Donald Trump sits in a glass tower or sits in the White House, we will not give an inch on this, not now, not ever…

Part of our move towards unity involves clarifying conversation for those willing to have it.  Educator Ali Michael suggests:

"Not everyone who voted for Donald Trump did so because they believe the bigoted things that he has said this year. Many of them voted for him because they feel frustrated with the economy, they feel socially left behind, and they are exercising the one power they have.  We need to challenge Trump and his supporters to differentiate between their fears and the bigotry catalyzed by those fears.”

In the Michael Rex post, he states the believe that the majority of those who voted for Trump are not for hatred of any kind, but pleas for them to speak out against these things fully and clearly. 

"It's not enough that you didn't say them yourself. You need to reassure your friends and family members who feel like they no longer have a seat at the table that you still stand with them, even if your priorities were different on Tuesday." 

Senator Warren said, in the same speech that I quoted earlier, that it is true that people are right to be angry about legitimate economic issues for the vast majority of Americans

“President-Elect Trump spoke to these issues. Republican elites hated him for it. But he didn’t care.  He criticized Wall Street and big money’s dominance in Washington-straight up….He spoke of the need to reform our trade deals so they aren’t raw deals for the American people. He said he will not cut Social Security benefits. He talked about the need to address the rising cost of college and about helping working parents struggling with the high cost of child care. He spoke of the urgency of rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and putting people back to work. He spoke to the very real sense of millions of Americans that their government and their economy has abandoned them. And he promised to rebuild our economy for working people. 
The deep worry that people feel over an America that does not work for them is not liberal or conservative worry. It is not Democratic or Republican worry. It is the deep worry that led even Americans with very deep reservations about Donald Trump’s temperament and fitness to vote for him anyway. 
So let me be 100% clear about this. When President-Elect Trump wants to take on these issues, when his goal is to increase the economic security of middle class families, then count me in.  I will put aside our differences and I will work with him to accomplish that goal.  I offer to work as hard as I can and to pull as many people as I can into this effort.  If Trump is ready to go on rebuilding economic security for millions of Americans, so am I and so are a lot of other people-Democrats and Republicans.”

The African American comedian Dave Chappelle succinctly summed things up at the end of his monologue last night on Saturday Night Live:  

“I’m wishing Donald Trump luck, and I’m going to give him a chance.  And we, the historically disenfranchised, demand that he give us one to.”

So:  where do we go from here?

The Rev. Jacqueline Cameron offers a few questions for us:

“How do we create a neighborhood/city/country where respect and friendship and integrity and curiosity and justice and generosity are what's normal? How can we feel safe and be bold and still be open to learning about and from others? How do we stand together to combat physical and emotional abuse?  
I don't believe in easy answers, but I think we're going to need to be much more alert and active and creative in the never-ending task of seeking life-giving responses to all of these questions--when we're at home, at work, at worship, at play--everywhere, really. We really can build a better country--even when it feels impossible. We have to.”

I do not know what God is calling you to do:  I do know that God needs you, desperately, to be part of solution where all of God’s creation…all people…are welcomed and cared for by all.

So we will close this time with remembering the questions found in the renewing of our Baptismal Covenant, and will remember that we do all of these things with God’s help:

Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?People I will, with God's help.   Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?People I will, with God's help.   Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?People I will, with God's help.   Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?People I will, with God's help. 
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People I will, with God's help.


(This sermon was given at the three services at St. Paul's Episcopal SLC on November 12th and 13th.  Some of it was delivered without a manuscript:  this seeks to be faithful to what was said.)