Monday, September 26, 2016

God Sent a Prophet

19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' 25 But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' 27 He said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' 29 Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' 30 He said, 'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' 31 He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"

Holy Wisdom, Holy Word
Thanks be to God

Prayer: Oh Lord, uphold me, that I may uplift thee.

Sermon: God Sent a Prophet

As the rich man looks up to see Abraham and Lazarus at the pearly gates of Heaven, he suddenly realizes that he’s not getting in.  All that stuff about it being harder for a rich person to get into Heaven than a camel to go through the eye of a needle…he sees now that it wasn’t a joke. 
The rich man, who doesn’t have a name, has lost his chance.

BUT!!  The conversation that ensues between him and Abraham is of particular significance because it highlights the way we all tend to think.

Image result for the parable of the floodYou know the story about the flood and the person who crawls out on the roof of their house to be rescued?  A person in a boat comes by and says, “get in,” and the person on the roof says, “No thanks, God will save me.”  The boat leaves.  Another boat comes floating along and the person inside says, “The water is getting high, get in the boat.”  The person on the roof says, “I’m good, God will rescue me.”  A helicopter flies overhead and the pilot says, “Climb the ladder into the helicopter, I’ll save you.”  The person on the roof says, “Move along, I’m waiting for God to save me.”  The person on the roof drowns, and gets to meet God, saying, “God, why didn’t you save me??”  God responds, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter!  What more do you want??”

That person on the roof…is the rich man.  Either unable or unwilling to recognize that God has spoken…and God wasn’t kidding.  God sent rescue.  God sent prophets, Moses and Abraham, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  They weren’t enough for the rich man in life, but in death he finally sees and says, basically, “oops, my bad.”

Abraham isn’t having it, though.  Oops, my bad is not a valid response to him ignoring the poor and oppressed all his life, even though the prophets told him not to.  They warned him against apathy and self-gain, but he didn’t listen.  So no, Abraham isn’t amused.

Then the rich man does something really bold.  He DEMANDS that Abraham send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his brothers.  First of all, I don’t think the rich man is in a position to demand anything, but I get his desperation.  He doesn’t want his brothers to suffer the same fate as him. 
Unfortunately, that’s not really the most noble of goals.  I’d be willing to bet if he had said to Abraham, “Will you please send Lazarus back from the dead to tell my brothers that they need to use their abundant means to help people out?  Because it’s the right thing to do.  Because God calls us to do it.” 

If he had said that, maybe Abraham might have been a bit more willing to help him out.  But instead, he demands that Lazarus, a man he stepped over or walked past in life, he demands that he be USED once again to save his family.

Nope, Abraham isn’t having it.  He says, “If they won’t listen to the prophets sent by God, that’s just too bad for them.”

Friends, the prophets are indeed sent in a context, to a certain people, for a particular time in history.  But their messages ring true for generations, millennia to come.  We still, to this day, lean on the words of Moses and Abraham, Ezekiel and Jeremiah.

We still lean on the words of Nat Turner, of Frederick Douglas, of Martin Luther King, Jr., and of Rosa Parks. 

Yesterday, in Washington D.C., a great celebration was held for the opening of a new Smithsonian Museum.  It’s the Museum African-American History and Culture, which remembers the violent, oppressive history of the United States, and celebrates the human will to overcome and thrive.  As President George W. Bush put it, “A great nation does not hide its history.  It faces it and corrects its flaws.”

It’s a noble proposition.  If only it were true.

Sure, the museum itself is a testament to the virtue and determination of the black American.  But I would argue that the number of times in the last four months that I and my preacher friends have felt compelled to preach on the way we treat our black citizens paints a different picture altogether.
       
Throughout the summer, we have been working from the Gospel of Luke.  Which is significant because the Gospel of Luke is widely known in scholarly circles as the social gospel.  Jesus spends a great deal of time talking about how we are to treat the poor, the widow, the orphan, the oppressed.  He rails against money, and insists that he did not come for our comfort.  They can be difficult words to bring, especially when we are so comfortable, but Jesus didn’t shy away from the tough conversations, and neither can we. 

Jesus calls us to the tough conversations.  He calls us to keep reminding the world of the words of the prophets.

Because we as a society aren’t listening to them…

We celebrate Harriett Tubman in museums.  We venerate Nat Turner and Frederick Douglas as heroes.  We have MLK Day and Black History Month to memorialize their contribution and their sacrifice.

But we aren’t listening.

This museum looks amazing and I really want to go.  I need to remember the history.  I need to see that my people have enslaved, tortured, and oppressed an entire continent of people for centuries.  I need to be convicted by the brutality of Jim Crow.  I need to feel the death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  I need the prophets to speak to me.

I think we all need the prophets to speak to us.

A friend of mine, this week, took issue with me talking about the movement for black lives.  He assured me that Michael Brown and Sandra Bland and Trayvon Martin were no Dr. King or Rosa Parks.  He said the movement isn’t valid because look at who its leaders are. 

But Michael Brown and Sandra Bland and Trayvon Martin aren’t the leaders of the movement.  They’re the martyrs in the ongoing struggle for the same civil rights that Dr. King and Rosa Parks fought for in the 1950s and 60s. 

And if we can look back and claim that what Dr. King and Rosa Parks did was a good thing, then we should be able, now, to see that the current movement is a good thing.  If we can look back and say we would have been Freedom Riders or would have marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma or if we would have joined the Birmingham bus boycott, then we should be willing to join the protests across the country today.

We should be able to acknowledge that this movement is about lifting people, beloved children of God, out of oppression.  And to deny that they are oppressed is to deny the prophets.

The rich man, in his life, denied the prophets.  He gathered wealth and held onto it, stepping over Lazarus whenever he encountered him.  Even though the prophets warned him against this kind of treatment of the poor, the rich man chose comfort in life.  And Lazarus received comfort after death.
Do we choose comfort in life?  Or do we choose to sacrifice our own riches, our own privilege, in order to lift the beloved children of God out of oppression?

I often wonder what I can do.  What does it look like to sacrifice my riches in pursuit of racial justice?

Today, what I have is my voice.  You have a voice, too. 

There are people who call me un-American.  They say I’m inciting violence by supporting the movement.  You undoubtedly know these people, too.
But as people of God, as followers of our savior Jesus Christ, we are compelled to rise above, and to demand that, indeed, all of God’s beloved deserve to be treated as beloved by us…because Jesus commanded us to love one another.  He loved us, set the example for us, and set us free to love one another as HE loved…as he loves… us.
Image result for injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere
Quote: Letter from a Birmingham City Jail
God expected the rich man to treat Lazarus as an equal.  God expected the rich man to take care of Lazarus.  God expected the rich man to love Lazarus.

God expects the same of us in this era of civil rights. 
Use your voice.  Talk to your friends and family.  Be loving, be gentle, be kind.  Reread Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  Read The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  Listen to President Obama’s speech at the museum opening yesterday.

And listen to the prophets God has sent.

In the name of God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sustainer…Amen.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

I Still Love You

25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."


I am a lifelong lover of baseball.  My parents started taking me to see the Braves play at Fulton County Stadium in the early 1980s.  And let me tell you, if you know anything about Braves baseball, you know that being a Braves fan in the 80s was serious commitment.  We were committed, though, and in 1995, that commitment paid off in the form of a World Series win.  They were the darling team of the decade, going from worst to first, and boy was their fan base happy. 

We threw parties, went to parades, there was Braves day at all the schools.  My mom took my sister and me out of school one day to go downtown and see the National League champions, and later the world champion, Atlanta Braves have a parade through the streets.  It was glorious.  We loved them.  So much, we loved the Braves.
My girl Courtney and me at Spring Training.

And then, in 1996, the Olympics came to Atlanta.  A new stadium was built, right next to Fulton County Stadium, and we went back and forth between them…watching a track and field event on Saturday afternoon and a Braves game on Saturday night.  

And then, once the Olympics were over, the Braves moved into the new stadium, Turner Field, we nicknamed it The Ted, for Ted Turner who owned the Braves at the time.  We were fans!!

Even as the Braves started to get bad again, we hung on.  The good old days were surely going to revisit us.  We clung to this notion that teams go through cycles, and only the Yankees could be consistently good because they buy their championships.  Sorry not sorry for any Yankee fans in the house.

We loved the Braves.

And then, one day, they dropped a bomb on us.  Two years later, the effects of that bomb are still evident in communities all over Atlanta.

The Braves are moving.

They haven’t even been in their stadium 20 years, and they’re moving.

And where are they moving? 

Memphis?  Portland?  Indianapolis?

No…north of Atlanta.  Just outside the city, in a town called Marietta.

In the city that literally epitomizes the term “white flight,” this was a serious blow to all those who live in the city.

During the Civil Rights era, Atlanta was termed The City too Busy to Hate.  We didn’t have race problems in Atlanta, because we were just too busy growing and living. 

It was a giant misnomer, because we certainly did have race problems.  We were a large, southern city, after all. 

But Atlanta became famous for its white flight epidemic.  White families moved out of the city, to the suburbs, where they could be safe from the growing poverty and racial divides in the urban core.   Atlanta’s suburban population is mostly white now, and unwelcoming to people of color.

So, when the Braves announced they were moving out of the city, it smacked of white flight.  It was a reminder that we still have so far to go to be the beloved community.

And yet, I still love the Braves.  I will always love the Braves.  It is written on my heart and soul that I am a Braves fan. 

I hate that they are moving.  I will probably never go see them in their fancy new stadium.  I hate that I still love them, even though this move epitomizes everything I am against as a Christian.  But I do.  I love them.  They’re my team.  They always will be.  I’ve been searching for a new team, hoping that in 2017, when the Braves start to play in their new stadium, I will be able to abandon them for another, less racially insensitive, capitalist team.
It hasn’t happened.  My heart belongs with the Braves.

And so it is with Jesus. 

We are the ones who constantly disappoint.  Because we are human, and sinful, and can never live up to the standards set for us.  We can barely live up to the standards we set for ourselves.

Jesus asks us to take up his cross.

He compares it to the eternally ordinary task of planning.  Planning a building or a war.  Weird metaphors, for sure, but what in the world is happening when Jesus compares taking up his cross to the work an architect does?

He says if we don’t plan properly, we’ll be ridiculed.  Similarly, if you don’t do all these super human things, including rejecting your family and giving away all your possessions, you cannot be a disciple. 

And I don’t for a second think he’s being hyperbolic here.  I believe these are actual things Jesus expects of us.  To give up all our earthly desires and follow him.  To care about literally nothing except being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

That is indeed what Jesus expects of us.

And, like I said before, these are super human feats of will.  Only a few have managed to come close, and they include the likes of Mother Theresa and Ghandi.  And even they were vulnerable to succumbing to their humanity.

I am certainly guilty of putting my family before God, as I’m sure we all are.  I have been guilty of refusing to carry the cross of Christ.  I have been guilty of failing to plan or to give up all my possessions.  I have fallen short, time and again, of God’s will. 

As much as I want the Braves to be an honorable organization that values racial and economic diversity, they aren’t.  And I still love them.

As much as Jesus wants us to strive to be like him, we don’t.  And he still loves us.

And it kills me to love the Braves.

And it kills Jesus to love us.

Literally.

Despite all our sinful shortcomings, Jesus died for us.

And we gather at table to celebrate his triumph over death, and we keep striving.  Because Jesus loves us still.

In the name of God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sustainer…Amen

Monday, July 11, 2016

Down in the Dirt

25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" 27 He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." 28 And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 30 Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" 37 He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

Prayer: Oh Lord, uphold me, that I may uplift thee.

This week was another bad week.  Another week of violence in our country, and around the world.  Black, white, and brown bodies strewn, lifeless, on the streets of Baton Rouge, of the Twin Cities, of Dallas, of Bangladesh and Baghdad and Istanbul.

A range of motives, one outcome. 

The tragedy is overwhelming.  It stopped me dead in my tracks on Friday morning. 

But it’s also a week of hope.  Yesterday morning, I read report after report after report of vigils and protests in major cities all across the country.

One of particular significance for me was a photo from a vigil held in Memphis yesterday.  It’s not only significant because my husband is from Memphis, but because it’s a city with some of the worst race relations in the country, and the vigil was held outside the National Civil Rights Museum, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

The protest rally in Dallas was held just two blocks from where John F. Kennedy Jr. was assassinated.
These two cities, Memphis and Dallas, cities with great historical significance, remind us that out of chaos comes hope.

We know, from our own history, and from the biblical narrative, that it’s been bad before.  The man lying on the side of the road in our text for today probably wasn’t real.  He was a metaphor for pain and suffering.

He was a metaphor for Israel in captivity in Egypt, or Israel in exile during the Babylonian empire.  He was a metaphor for the disciples confusion and grief after Jesus’ death.  He was a metaphor for Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge.  He was a metaphor for Philando Castille in St. Paul.  He was a metaphor for Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa and Michael Krol and Michael Smith and Lorne Ahrens, peace officers in Dallas.  He was a metaphor for all those hurt and killed in the multiple ISIS attacks that marked the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

He was a metaphor for the pain and suffering, the oppression and subjugation, the forgottenness and dismissal of God’s people. 

He was a metaphor for us.

And then here comes this Good Samaritan.  This stranger who brushes aside customs and standards of cleanliness, he doesn’t consider the race or ethnicity or religion of the hurt man, he doesn’t care what his job is or how much money he does or doesn’t have.  He sees a human, a neighbor, broken and bleeding.  He sees us in all our humanity, in all our pain, in all our potential.

He is the Dallas Police Department, marching alongside protesters, protecting them, loving them, snapping selfies with them.

He is the president, both presidential candidates, and many elected officials, saying enough!

He is Black Lives Matter, demanding accountability and change in the names of those who cannot speak for themselves.

Because it’s not enough to simply acknowledge that there’s a problem.  It’s not enough for the priest to walk by on the other side and say a prayer for the beaten man.  It’s not enough for the Levite to pass by and wish the guy well.  No, it’s our job, as people who worship the guy who told the story, to get down in the dirt with the beaten and broken man and do whatever we can to save him.

It’s not enough to simply make a Facebook post about how tragic the whole thing is.

It’s not enough to send our thoughts and prayers to the grieving.

It’s not enough to pass by on the other side.

It’s our job, as followers of Jesus Christ, our executed, brown-skinned Lord, to be beaten and broken.

Only then will we see and feel the disaster, the tragedy, the pain of all those suffering under the weight of oppression and fear.

And only then, will we begin to see the way out.

There’s an episode of The West Wing with Chief of Staff Leo McGarry telling a story.  He says: “This guy’s walking down a street when he falls in a hole.  The walls are so steep he can't get out.

"A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, 'Hey you. Can you help me out?' The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

"Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, 'Father, I'm down in this hole can you help me out?' The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on

"Then a friend walks by, 'Hey, Joe, it's me can you help me out?' And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, 'Are you stupid? Now we're both down here.' The friend says, 'Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out.’”

There’s hope of getting out of the hole.  But first we have to experience the hole.

I haven’t grieved black and brown lives as intensely as I did this week.  I haven’t grieved the lives of strangers really at all before a few weeks ago.  I’ve had a distant, moral objection to tragedies like this in the past.  I’ve understood intellectually that they’re sad, and we should definitely do something to stop them.

But after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, a massacre at the intersection of race, sexual identity and ethnicity, I feel deeply broken. 

Then came the massacres of many, many Muslims preparing for the end of Ramadan.

And then the massacres of black men being black.

And then, peace officers picked off by a sniper.

Sisters and brothers, my heart is broken.  My soul is beaten.  And I’m new to this.  I already have compassion fatigue, and I haven’t been living with this my whole life.

It’s barely a taste of what it’s like to be in the hole, but the more of us who experience it, the better able we are to help each other out.

Jesus is down in that hole.  Jesus knows the pain and brutality of being publicly executed. 

And Jesus knows the glory of redemption. 

I’m not there yet though.  Our society isn’t there yet.  Our world isn’t there yet.

We know redemption is coming.  Because history tells us so.  Because the Bible tells us so.  Because Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, tells us so.  I hope and pray and work towards that day.  Will you join me?


In the name of God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sustainer…Amen.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Risking Everything

24 "A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25 it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
26 "So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
32 "Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
34 "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36 and one's foes will be members of one's own household.
37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."
Called to Division??

                This summer, I attended the 221st meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Presbyterians from all over the world gathered in Detroit for eight days to do the business of the church.  We had, as I’m sure you can guess, committee meetings.  We had worship and communion.  We had fellowship.  We came together, from near and far, to try to discern the will of God for the PC(USA).  And, at the end of our time together, whether we were happy about the results or not, we worshiped again. 
                I arrived home about 10:00 that Saturday night, exhausted and longing for my bed and my pillow, and still reeling from the events of the week.  It’s an intense week, during which it is not unusual for meetings to go past midnight.  My job as a student assistant meant dealing with IT issues and assisting the organizers with whatever they needed, and required me to arrive early and stay late, so most days were upwards of 16 hours. 
                There were many tears that week.  Some of them were admittedly my own, but most of them came from supporters on all sides of issues.  There were tears of joy, tears of grief, tears of exhaustion and tears of gratitude.  Even though this is the “business” of the church, I want to be clear that it is deeply spiritual work, and faithful Christians from across the ideological spectrum often break into song and prayer together.  They reach out to one another, grieved by their separation, but firm in the belief that they are proclaiming the Gospel to the best of their abilities.
                I cannot tell you who is on the right side of God in our debates.  I can tell you who I believe is on the right side, but I’m not sure that would be helpful.  Because these are good, faithful people working their tails off to the glory of God, and that is to be celebrated.  AND, in the end, no matter how “right” we are, we all fall short, and that is what we must remember when we begin to talk about those “other” people as “wrong.”
                In our text for today, Jesus has just finished talking to his followers about discipleship. Then he tells them this: “Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have come not to bring peace, but a sword.”
                {sigh}
                Honestly, I struggle with this text.  I’ve looked at it over and over, read commentary after commentary, prayed, written, done all the things a preacher is supposed to do while writing a sermon.  But this one phrase is so entirely contrary to everything I have ever been told about Jesus.  After all, Jesus is the one who brought us a new commandment.  In John 13:34 Jesus says: “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  It doesn’t even sound like the same Jesus. 
                Perhaps some context will help…
                The book of Matthew is written to a group of Jewish Christians.  So, let’s stop and think about what that means.  The Gospels are often read to portray the Pharisees as the “bad guys.”  They weren’t really bad guys, they were Jews practicing strict adherence to Torah, the law that God gave to the Jews.  They were genuine religious people engaging in genuine religious practice.  And Jesus himself wasn’t trying to portray the Pharisees as “the bad guys,” but his ministry often violated their interpretation of the Law. The Pharisees were charged with upholding this Law that had guided their religious practice and relationship with God for centuries. Yet clearly, Jesus’ reinterpretation of the Law could appear to be complete disregard for that Law, and as such posed a significant threat to their approach.
                So the Jewish Christians of Matthew’s community still practiced Jewish traditions and considered themselves Jews…and they were, ethnically, nationally, geographically; everything about them said Jew…but they were also followers of Jesus.  That meant they didn’t adhere to the same law they once did.  They were following Christ at the risk of everything.
                And what does Jesus tell them?  He says, “Don’t worry; this is how it’s supposed to be.  I’m not here to make your life easy.”  Gee, thanks, Jesus, that was super inspiring.
                These Jewish Christians are, once again, wandering in the desert.  They are in exile.  They have become the scourge of society, meeting in secret in order to preserve their lives and, especially, the lives of their families.
                But Jesus tells them not to do that.  Because being a disciple means being willing to give up even their families.
                They were following Christ at the risk of everything.
                And that, I believe, is what the PC(USA) is doing today.  We may not be meeting in secret (it definitely was NOT a secret that two thousand of us were in town) and we may not be fearing for our lives simply for being Christian, but our family is breaking apart because of our will to be followers of Christ Jesus.
                Four years ago, at the General Assembly in Minneapolis, we removed the restriction which denied ordination to our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender sisters and brothers.  The issue of homosexual ordination has been a divisive one from the beginning, and has spawned a new Presbyterian denomination…the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians…or ECO.  That one change to our polity literally split the church. 
                But friends, I believe it is too simple to view the ECO and other Presbyterians with whom we disagree as ‘Pharisees,’ or even to claim that either side is wrong. Though painful and deeply sad, our disagreements are not entirely destructive.  We are all doing discipleship.  We are following Christ at the risk of everything, even the destruction of our church family.  It gives me hope, and great joy, to know that our love of Christ is greater than our love of anything else.  So much so, that in order to be faithful followers, we are finding ourselves divided.
                There will, undoubtedly, be more churches and individuals leaving this year.  The issues that divided us ranged from clergy being allowed to marry same-sex couples, to divestment from fossil fuel companies and companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine, to our official position on drones, guns and the death penalty.  These are hot topics, and we considered them all.  Faithfully, prayerfully…we considered them.  Votes were cast, tears were shed, cheers were heard, songs were sung, hugs were given and received, communion was taken. 
                And now here we are, standing on the edge of a new reality, one which sees the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the ECO Presbyterians, one where we must take seriously what is written in our own Foundations of Presbyterian Polity: “The Church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life.” 
                We are divided as followers of Christ.
                This, my friends, is kingdom seeking.  Let us be determined to discern the will of God, God alone, and “let the chips fall where they may.”[1]  If we find ourselves divided as a people, let it be because we are following the Christ we confess as Lord.  Because “the demands of the prince of true peace may very well feel like a sword cutting through lesser loyalties and making quick work of our flabby, commonsense morality.”[2] 
                You see, Jesus knew, when he instructed his disciples, that the work he was preparing them for would be treacherous.  Discipleship is costly.  He deliberately used violent imagery, to prepare his followers for what was to come.  So we cannot say that we didn’t know, because we did.  We were told that we would be risking everything if we were to be followers of Christ.  And yet, here we are, risking everything.
                I’m sorry to tell you this, but Jesus’ values are not family values.  Jesus’ values are kingdom values.[3]  It’s hard for us to comprehend what that means, because his teaching has become so commonplace for us.  But it was totally radical.  There’s a reason the authorities wanted him dead. 
                I want badly for our church family to be in unity with one another, but more than that, I want to follow Jesus.  I want to be a disciple.  I want to be radical.  I fail most of the time. 
                I’m human.  I fail at kingdom seeking.  That’s not to say that we should be seeking out hardship or things that will cause us to be divided, no.  In fact, Jesus tells us only to pick up his cross, not to create our own.  What we should be doing, though, if following what God is calling us to do, rather than doing what makes us most comfortable.  For example: My fiancĂ©e, Matt, and I would really like to go west when we get married and graduate.  We want to be close to my sister, who just had our first nephew, Moses.  Our great desire is to be near our family, to do ministry where we can be comfortable and where our kids can all grow up together.  We know it won’t be easy, but it’ll be better if we’re close to family.  If we’re comfortable…
                How’s that for risking everything?  For kingdom seeking??  I told you most days I fail. 
                I overheard a similar story at General Assembly.  A woman prayed for God to send her west so she could be with her family.  As she put it, “God heard “west” and sent her to West Jersey.”  This terrifies me.  Aside from simply not wanting to live in New Jersey, I hate the thought of being so far from my family.  I hate the thought of my kids not growing up around their cousins.  Julie, my sister, sat down next to one of our cousins at a family gathering a few years ago and he said, “Who are you?”  I don’t want that for my family.  Unfortunately for me, Jesus’ values are not family values and at some point I will have to realize that our dreams of waking up to a Pacific view may not be where God sends us. 
                All this for a Church whose savior brings a sword of division?  All this for a church that may ultimately perish?
                The Gospel shakes up values.  The Gospel rearranges priorities.  The Gospel reorients goals.[4]
                But I trust that when Jesus tells me not to fear, I shouldn’t.  Okay, I mostly trust that.  It’s what he says though.  Three times in this passage, Jesus says “Do not be afraid.”  He promises that, despite the hardships of discipleship, God goes with us. 
                So I implore you to pray, to discern the will of God.  And at the risk of everything, follow.
Amen.






[1] Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary - Feasting on the Word – Year A, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.

Monday, August 5, 2013

I'm a Pain-in-the-Butt Passenger

This was written on Saturday as I waited for my flight from D.C. to Atlanta.  I'm just now posting because a) there was no wi-fi there and b) I'm lazy.  Enjoy!

I’ve learned two things about traveling from my family.

1     1)      From my parents: NEVER say the word “bomb” in an airport.
2     2)      From my sister: ALWAYS pick an aisle seat.

Okay, I’ve learned a lot of other things about traveling from my family, but these two are particularly important today.  Don’t worry, Dad, I didn’t say “bomb,” but I may as well have…and NO ONE CARED.
Let me back up just a bit.

I left Cape Town last night at 11:20 PM Africa time (I’m not sure of the name of the time zone, but I know it’s not Eastern).  Africa time (by my estimation, all of Africa, but I’m sure Kate will correct me) is six hours ahead of real time.  Don’t ask me how that works, but it does.  I arrived at the airport a solid three hours before my flight, and that three hours counts in my travel time, so as of this writing I’m at 27 hours of traveling, and 40 hours of wakefulness.  I still have at least four more hours of travel ahead of me, so as you can probably guess, I’m a bit delirious.  This post promises to be either awesome or awful…or both.
In the CPT airport, I hassled the lady at the check-in counter about checking all three of my bags (I went with three, I left with five).  She wanted me to check all of them, I wanted to only check two and then check the third at the gate.  We argued for a good 37 seconds (it was brutal) until she informed me that I got two checked bags for free.  Wait, what!?!?!?!  That wasn’t in the brochure!!  I smiled politely, paid her my R760 (760 Rand = $76) and bounced away, cheerful as ever. 

At this point, I was sweatier than a fat guy in a fat suit.  Seriously, I hadn’t even done anything yet and I was already regretting my choice of “plane clothes.”  But, with no other option, I flung my puffy jacket over my shoulder and headed for security. 

In a rare moment of forethought, I had the presence of mind to pack deodorant, face cloths, toothbrush, toothpaste and medicine in my carry-on.  Now, it should be mentioned that I almost always have one of my carry-on bags flagged for a search.  Leaving Atlanta back in May, it was for a jar of Nutella (I’m still a little sore about that).  But I am nothing if not cooperative with security and I told the nice TSA guy to “go for it.”  He pulled out my deodorant and stared at it for a few minutes.  One the inside I’m thinking, “Please God, don’t let him take my deodorant away.”  On the outside I smiled politely and said it really wasn’t a big deal if he wanted to toss it, and that I understand how this stuff works.  I’m sweating on the inside AND the outside now, desperately hoping he won’t throw out the precious commodity which I was only just beginning to grasp the value of.

He let me keep my deodorant.

Once on the plane, I settled into my aisle seat and informed the mother and son sitting with me that I likely wouldn’t sleep so not to worry about needing to get out.  The mother, Carol, looked at me like I was crazy, sure that an eleven hour flight which departed at 11:20 PM would warrant sleep from even the pickiest sleeper.  It did not.  I even took a sleeping pill.  Nothing.  So, I was grateful for my aisle seat because I got up, I’m sure, about two dozen times.  At one point, in a desperate attempt to sleep, I took my pillow and my neck pillow and discreetly found myself a spot on the floor outside the bathrooms.  I mean, no one is using it, except those greedy, greedy guys in the front of coach…as if their feet need more room than mine.  Anyway, like I said, I did it discreetly.  First I stood as if I were waiting for the restroom.  Then I sat, as if the wait was WAY too long (there was one person in line, and I sat down after about fifteen seconds).  Then I said screw it and just sprawled out on the floor.  Unfortunately, I knew it was against the rules, and my scoff-law ways were likely to get me thrown out the emergency exit I was so fitfully attempting to sleep in font of.  I didn’t sleep for fear of missing it when they started opening the emergency exit.  When I felt the tap on my shoulder, I didn’t even wait for an explanation; I just gathered my pathetic pillows and headed back to my seat.  The flight attendant gave me sad eyes and apologized, which I thought was sweet.  I spent the rest of the flight with my legs flung over the side of my seat, not caring that I was obstructing the cart path.  A cart hit me in the foot and then I cared a lot.

I had been feeling kind of sick leading up to my departure and had drowned myself in Vitamin C.  The plane, however, gave me a serious case of the icks.  I haven’t enjoyed anything I’ve eaten for two days now (which, admittedly, could just be the airplane food) and I’ve been coughing a lot.  So as the plane was landing, one flight attendant asked me how I was feeling.  Seriously, kudos to the KLM flight attendants.  They’ve been wonderful start to finish. 

I got off the plane in Amsterdam and, with two hours before my flight for D.C. was scheduled to leave, I began to meander in that direction.  I slowly made my way from D7 to E17, pausing at coffee shops along the way to peruse their hot tea selections.  I didn’t ever get any, thinking I would get some closer to my gate, that I was really hot and may not actually want hot tea, but my throat was killing me and I definitely needed it, but did I really want to pay with a credit card for a cup of tea because I have no Euros???  It was a serious conundrum.  I got to E17 and, spidey senses tingling, quickly noticed that something wasn’t right.  I looked at the board and it said nothing about D.C. in the next hour.  I asked a gate attendant, who told me I needed to go back to D57.  It was a long enough walk between D7 and E17, but then I had to go back to D7 and then past it?!  Hearing my complaints about my heavy bags, she offered me a cart.  Why had I not thought of this?!?!?!  It made the trek back to D57 much more bearable, and faster.  And that was when I decided, again, screw it.  I stopped at Starbucks.  It was at D50, and I knew I had a few minutes before I absolutely had to be at the gate (I was wading into dangerous territory here because I’m kind of neurotic about being at the gate at least an hour before departure…thanks Dad).  I stopped at the remarkably slow Starbucks and ordered a grande iced chai latte (OMG THANK YOU JESUS FOR ICED CHAI LATTES) and a giant bottle of water.  The barista asked me my name, as they’re wont to do at Starbucks and when I said, “Bethany,” she head, “Becca.”  She asked me, “Becca?”  I thought for the splittest of split seconds about correcting her, and then I realized the opportunity the aforementioned Jesus was giving me for comedy gold.  I let her think it was Becca and watched with self-satisfying amusement as she wrote it on my cup.  Then I took a picture, which proves that it’s not just an American Starbucks thing.  Score.



At this point, however, it’s way past time to get to my gate and I’m hauling, sucking down my glorious iced chai latte.  As soon as I stumble off the moving sidewalk (I seriously suck at those things), I see a line forming before the gate sign.  Not ever having seen this before, I just figure the crowds obviously know best and I should fall in line.  So I did.  It was the right decision.  That’s always an iffy thing with me, because I’m more likely to blindly follow everyone else than go ask.  Sometimes it goes my way, sometimes it doesn’t.  This time, in a foreign country, it went my way.  Thanks again, JC.

I’m waiting in line and I notice something peculiar.  I did not notice it at the SEVENTY-THREE gates I passed (TWICE), but in Amsterdam, each gate has its own individual security check-point.  This did not bode well for my giant bottle of water I had just purchased for $5 at the amusing Starbucks.  I certainly couldn’t chug it, mostly because I don’t chug, but also because by the time I noticed, it was too late.  I hoped they wouldn’t notice…because that always works.  They noticed, and took it.  I weighed my options.  I could either give my best “you just kicked my puppy and I’m both mad and sad about it” eyes, or I could understand that TSA doesn’t give a crap about my puppy.  So they took my water and I sulked in a corner for a little while…sure I was going to die from dehydration before my plane for America took off. 
How much would that suck??  I made it this far, and then I die before getting to America because of the TSA which I have the utmost respect for…  I guess that will teach me to have respect for the people working tirelessly and thanklessly (seriously people, they have a terrible job) for the security of us all.  Never again, I tell you.

Once I was through security, I sat by the window looking out at the plane.  Now, I’ve seen planes.  I’ve seen a lot of them.  It’s like that time I was talking to boyfriend about going to a Braves game and he asked if I wanted to go early to see batting practice.  It was very sweet, but oh my goodness have I seen batting practice…  So I’ve got my back to the window.  The gate attendant comes on the P.A. system and says we’re delayed because they’re replacing the front tires.  I look up just in time to see every head in the joint turn and look (some in utter dread).  I can’t help but laugh because, come on, tires need replacing.  But people literally watch the whole process.  Some even take pictures of it happening. 

Okay, I took a picture.


Once we got on the flight, I once again thanked my sister and her neurosis that led to my neurosis about aisle seats.  My seatmate said not one word to me the entire trip.  As we were getting ready to land, I looked over at his claims form and saw that his home country is Kenya.  My guess is that his Swahili is much better than his English.  He also slept most of the way, and covered his face with a blanket.  I wanted to take a picture of that, but decided that would probably be a very ugly thing to do.  I don’t want to be ugly.  I’m very self-conscious (give me compliments).

We landed in D.C. and the only reason I didn’t kiss the ground is because I haven’t actually been outside yet.  Despite the fact that I’m on American soil, I still have yet to see any soil.  Georgia red clay, here I come!!

I breezed through passport control and customs (and by “breezed” I mean trudged through like cows being herded in an hour long process which I am thankful didn’t take any longer).  With all five of my bags precariously perched on a cart much smaller than I needed, I headed to the Delta counter to re-check them for the final leg of my flight.  Walking up, I noticed a bag just sitting there.  That’s not the kind of thing that is generally considered okay in an airport, and I must admit, I was nervous.  It’s the first time I’ve ever been nervous in an airport.  I mentioned it to the check-in agent by asking, “Does this bag belong to someone?”  She responded, “That would be the assumption.”  I still kind of want to report her to the Delta gods or whomever handles that kind of thing.  Whether or not she knew the bag was there, and whether or not she knew who it belonged to, the appropriate response to my genuinely concerned inquiry about airport safety is NOT, “That would be the assumption.”  I let it go, though, because, again, fatigue.  I told her my bags had already been tagged and paid for, all they needed to do was put them on the plane.  She called a guy over, telling him I had three bags.  I pulled them off my cart and put them on the scales.  He pulled them off the scales and put them on the conveyor belt.  Then they both looked at me expectantly, waiting for their tip.  Normally, I’m one of the best people for this because Dad and airport decorum and whatnot.  But after her response to my question and his lack of actually doing anything at all, I was less than inclined to offer them a “way to go guys.”  Dad confirmed for me that I had made the right decision. 


And now, here I sit, waiting for my flight to Atlanta.  As I made my way to the gate, I recalled a conversation I had had with my friend Patrick, the American at Bellville Presbyterian outside of Cape Town.  He asked me what my first meal back in the States would be.  Without hesitation I answered, “Chick-fil-A.”  I had to eat crow on that, however, because it was dinner time and I was hungry, and this being D.C., there wasn’t a CFA in sight.  So I settled for a day-old Turkey BLTA (avo) wrap.  It was less than stellar for my first meal back, but it gave me a good excuse to make jokes.  Unfortunately, I think I failed at the jokes.  I’m le tired.  

Monday, July 15, 2013

Trayvon Martin and Desmond Tutu

This morning, I got an invitation to take Eucharist from and then meet and have coffee with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  Yesterday, I learned of the verdict in the case against George Zimmerman.

These two events are inextricably linked for me.  I am so unbelievably excited to meet the Archbishop, but I am acutely aware of my status and how I have come to have this opportunity.  I'm not black.  I'm a white girl from the suburbs of Atlanta with a good education and access to funding for cool things like traveling to South Africa.

When I was in high school, some of my friends made me an honorary black girl.  Looking back, I'm pretty sure that's a terribly offensive thing and that it highlights the differences between us simply for the color of our skin.  My parents taught me that we are all created equally, and when I brought home black friends, they treated them like people.  I don't say "they treated them the same as they treated my white friends" because it again makes a distinction between the races that I simply don't believe is there.

My dad told me one time that he was concerned about my lack of patriotism.  I can't remember the context of the conversation, but this stuck with me as a particularly egregious thing to say (sorry, Dad) coming from a fellow historian.  I remembered them teaching me that we are all equal, and I cannot look at the founding of our country as a positive then when it meant the destruction and death of a people who were already here.

Then, another time, he asked me why it was that I never had a problem with gay people, when he and Mom struggled with it for years (sorry to rip on you Dad, but you've taught me many valuable life lessons).  I reminded him of what they taught me, that we are all created equal.  It is at the core of who I am, and apparently always has been.

So then, in the course of 24 hours, I was outraged at something as terrifying as the upholding of a law that is basically legislating and legalizing lynchings, and then was invited to have an audience with the man who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his fight for the equality of all people in South Africa.  It's like being kicked in the face and then being reminded that peace, love and justice do ultimately prevail.

I'm praying for my home right now.  I often forget to pray for my country, because somewhere in my belief that we are all created equal, I have a hatred of certain people and groups who don't believe the same things I do.  I sometimes think we are beyond help.  I'm reminded today that isn't true.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Whales are Stupid

I went to Hermanus yesterday.  Guess what's in Hermanus...

WHALES!!!!!!  We went to see whales.  

I saw no whales.

As I'm standing on the cliff, waiting to see a whale, I turn to one of my people and say, "Where are the whales?  Why aren't they entertaining me?"  She laughed.  I still can't figure out why.  I was totally serious.

So, I guess technically whales aren't stupid (I mean, they're no dolphin, but still), and I may have expected more out of them than they were able to give yesterday, but how many chances am I going to get to see whales in South Africa?  My guess...one.  This was my only chance.  

I should maybe pretend I did see them.  Though my imagination really isn't all that great.

But because I didn't see any whales, here's a picture of something I did see.


Okay, I didn't really see a tiger.  But I had to do something to make you laugh.  You're welcome.