August 6, 2020

August 6, 2020

Matthew 14: 13-21 “You give them something to eat.” 

When Jesus got the news, he slipped away by boat to an out-of-the-way place by himself. But unsuccessfully—someone saw him and the word got around. Soon a lot of people from the nearby villages walked around the lake to where he was. When he saw them coming, he was overcome with pity and healed their sick.

Toward evening the disciples approached him. “We’re out in the country and it’s getting late. Dismiss the people so they can go to the villages and get some supper.”

But Jesus said, “There is no need to dismiss them. You give them supper.”

 “All we have are five loaves of bread and two fish,” they said.

Jesus said, “Bring them here.” Then he had the people sit on the grass. He took the five loaves and two fish, lifted his face to heaven in prayer, blessed, broke, and gave the bread to the disciples. The disciples then gave the food to the congregation. They all ate their fill. They gathered twelve baskets of leftovers. About five thousand were fed.

I met with the Diaconate on Monday afternoon to make plans for this Sunday’s outdoor worship service (you’ll be there, right?  In the parking lot, 10am, bring a chair… about 30 minutes, with Communion????)

And we also talked through their idea to hold an Exit Interview with me, to get a sense of what went well during the interim, and what might have been better.  We’ll be doing that in the next 10 days or so, before I am done.    As we were working on what might be asked, I asked them what they wanted to come of this interview.  That question made me think of this reading.

We all know this as the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and often the focus is on the miracle of coming up with another food.  In my Quaker First-day School, the emphasis was on the miracle of the generosity of those who had food put away and brought it out to share.  Today, though, I want us to think about why the disciples came and asked Jesus to send the followers away.

What did Jesus want to have happen when he responded to the disciples?  What had they wanted?

Well, it looks to me as though the disciples wanted to handle things easily, without being too involved.  “Send them all home, let someone else feed them. . .”  And Jesus wanted them to take responsibility, to take charge of the feeding effort.  Think of the disciples as tired, hungry, and fearful that things were spiraling out of control.  They had no food, they had no money, and they had no sense of their own abilities, power, authority.

Jesus wanted them to understand that their faith gave them authority, gave them power, and made them responsible.

You all are on the edge of starting a new relationship, welcoming your next settled pastor.  What do you want to have happen as a result of that new relationship?  What will she want of you?  Why will you ask for those things?  How will each of  you, all of you, exercise your authority, your power, and take up your responsibilities?

Blessings, Pastor Virginia

 

 

August 4, 2020

August 4

John Lewis decided on the kind of life he would live. Jacob had to make that decision; we all have to make that decision.

Genesis 32:22-31   “Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.”

Last Thursday, along many others, I watched the Homecoming (funeral) service for John Lewis, live-streamed from his home church, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.  Speaker after speaker shared his or her remembrances.

As I listened, this line from Genesis kept coming back to me…. “Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.”  In the story in Genesis, it’s clear Jacob is wrestling with God, wrestling with his future.  Wrestling, wrestling with tomorrow.  Wrestling with good.  Wrestling with evil.

John Lewis was a champion wrestler – wrestling with the racism of his beloved country.  His wrestling began when he was a teen, with the brutal murder of Emmett Till, and it never stopped.

I’m struck by the lesson for all of us to stick with it, to keep going, to get up after we’re knocked down.  George W. Bush said:  “[John Lewis’s] lesson to all of us is that we must all keep ourselves open to hearing the call of love, the call of service, and the call to sacrifice for others.”  Barack Obama added:  “You only pass this way once; you have to give all you have.”  Two former leaders of our world, two faithful Christians, testifying to the truth that life calls forth from us a constant readiness to wrestle with questions of right and wrong.

We don’t all have the opportunity to wrestle with the major problems of the twentieth century in a public way like John Lewis did.  But we all have the opportunity to wrestle.  Little issues, big ones, it really doesn’t matter.  What matters is whether we turn towards, or turn away from.  As Barack Obama said, “You only pass this way once…”  Give it all you have.

Blessings,
Pastor Virginia

If you didn’t see the service you can catch up with either the whole service, or the eulogies, here:

A recap:  https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/31/politics/john-lewis-atlanta-funeral-service/index.html

The whole service: https://livestream.com/historicebenezerbaptistchurch/events/9236743

President Obama’s eulogy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1pKoCq1bn0

President Bush’s eulogy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rwvvt_mzV_Q

President Clinton’s eulogy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIubZ3IC4Gk

 

 

July 28, 2020

Romans 8: 26-39  “If God is for us, who is against us?”

At the end of April, 1965, I drove from Parris Island, South Carolina to Santa Ana, California.  The first leg of my trip crossed South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, going right through Selma, Alabama.  I don’t remember if I went through downtown Selma, across the Pettus Bridge, but it’s quite likely.

It was six weeks after the confrontation at the Pettus Bridge.  Six weeks since John Lewis had been beaten crossing that bridge.  I wasn’t all that aware of the world outside my doors, but I knew enough to know that white women with Yankee accents weren’t welcome in Alabama.  it was less than a month since Viola Liuzzo had been murdered in Selma.  

I scrupulously followed the speed limits and drove through town with the windows rolled up and no stopping allowed.  I did not feel safe until I got to Vicksburg that evening.

On Monday, I watched the arrival of John Lewis’ body to lie in state in the Rotunda of the US Capitol.  And I cried.  There was a time when we all lived in fear, Blacks most of all, in the South.  We still fear, but not like then.  John Lewis believed that change would happen.  And it did.

No one claims we’ve gotten to the Promised Land on racial issues.  But, oh my, the changes.  St. Paul wrote in Romans 8, “if God is for us, who is against us?”  The “us” is the cause of equality and fairness.  The “us” is Black people who have been beaten, reviled, killed, ignored.  The “us” is all of us who live in a system that makes it all seem normal.

If God wants us to live as a people without dividing walls, who can stop us?  Not bullying or beating, not fire or noose, not systematic brutality or deficient education, not the habits of the ages, not the casual acceptance of the way it’s always been.  

If God is for us, who is against us? 

He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 

Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

A Meditation on Christian Patriotism

July 4, 2020

The Declaration of Independence:  We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

U S Constitution Section 2, par 3  Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons

Romans 7:15-20 (The Message translation)  I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.  But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.

June 22, 2020

June 22, 2020

Yesterday, in the sermon we heard from Nancy Taylor, she talked about being part of the Third Reconstruction – first, the Reconstruction after the Civil War, second, the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s – and today a Third Reconstruction.

The Reconstruction that is happening today is that us and them are becoming we.  The dividing walls of hostility are dissolving right before our eyes.  The fear and the pain, so long our eyes have been closed to, has now become ours.  It is no longer something that we turn away from.  No longer do we view each story of police brutality as an aberration, something one-off, something surely provoked by bad behavior.  Today, with horror, we’re realizing that even with the very best of intentions, we still have not seen, have not heard, have not understood what has been right before us.  We are beginning to understand that we no longer have the option of closing our eyes – either we struggle for equality or we stand against it.  The middle ground is no more.

It’s not just police brutality, you know.  It’s putting the little black kid in the back row of his elementary school class.  And then, finally seeing him, thinking of him only as an addition to the basketball team.  It’s not noticing that we’ve never met a black teacher, or not noticing that – even though there are people of color in our community – we don’t actually know anyone well enough to have lunch with them.  It’s not wondering why there are no black people at our beach.

In some ways, we’re waking up the way we did around homosexuality.  I used to hear people say “there are no gay people here,” when, if we’d only used our eyes and good common sense, we would have realized that Aunt Marie didn’t need to have a roomie, and that the two of them were a couple.  And it was embarrassing to realize how we’d closed our eyes to what was right in front of us.  But this is worse.  Worse, because it took more effort to ignore people, who by their skin color, should have been just as obvious as the nose on my face.  But it was as if they were invisible.

I know this is hard for many of us.  It’s easy to get caught up in worries about protecting the police, or looters, or any of the many alternative stories that are going around.  It’s challenging to look at our world and think about what this might mean for us.  Those walls we lived behind were part of what kept us “safe”.  Except, you know, those walls didn’t so much keep us safe as keep us ignorant.  And ignorance is never to be confused with safety.

Today, it is time to work to change our world.  It is time to see the pain, to hear the need and to make a difference.

Blessings, Pastor Virginia

June 17, 2020

June 17, 2020

Proverbs 4:20-22
My child, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings.
Do not let them escape from your sight; keep them within your heart.
For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.

We don’t often spend a lot of time with the Book of Proverbs.  There’s no plot, no real stories, no narrative arc.  Just one piece of advice after another.  There’s not even much mention of God – just Wisdom, and lots of it.  But there’s a reason Proverbs is in the Bible; it’s full of good sense.  Today’s reading is just one example.  It’s a warning to us all.  You can see the warning when you ask yourself, why is this here?

These words warn us that it’s all too easy in our world to stop listening to God’s words.  It’s all too easy to lose sight of our ultimate purpose, to step away from the path for whatever reason.  So the reading for today tells us that, in order to avoid losing our way, we should be intentional about reminding ourselves of the way.  Be attentive to God’s words, it says.  In other words, read the Bible on a regular basis.  Make those words as familiar as a favorite song, so that when we are faced with choices – as we inevitably will be – the guiding words of our Christian faith come to mind.

We believe that we have been created by God in order to help build communities of love, justice and mercy.  In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul writes:  “knowledge puffs us, but love builds up.”  Again, in Colossians 2, he writes:  “I want their (believers) hearts to be encouraged and united in love.”  I John 4 tells us “Beloved, let us love on another, because love is from God. . . whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”  Further on, John writes: “God is love and those who abide in love, abide in God, and God abides in them.”  Jesus himself, in the Sermon on the Mount, said:  “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”  As for justice, in Luke 3, Jesus said:  “whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise…”

Love is our foundation, justice and mercy are the two forms of our activities.  And daily, steady, consistent reading of our Bible helps ground us in the words which form our faith.

Blessings, Pastor Virginia

June 13, 2020 Gone With The Wind

I Corinthians 12:26 –  If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Years ago, I was helping a church craft a mission statement.  We worked hard and got it down to something like this:  “Open Hands, Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors”.  We were having an all church meeting to discuss the proposal when one of the more outspoken members said “I have a problem with this!”  We asked what the problem was, and it turned out he was uncomfortable with the idea of open doors.   And then one of the old folks of the church turned to him and said, “Just who do you want to keep out?”

I’ve been chewing over all that’s been happening and wondering how we could examine what we’re seeing and hearing without getting into nasty, friendship-ending arguments.  I’m wondering if one path might not be in reading stories together.  Here’s part of why I’m suggesting that:

Have you ever seen or read Gone With The Wind? It tells us things that just aren’t true.  GWTW tries to glorify an armed rebellion against the United States, and moreover attempts to suggest that slavery was pretty good for the slaves.  But it’s a good read and a classic movie, so folks still watch it and absorb that picture of the world.  GWTW is a powerful, though false, story.  What about some stories which tell truth from the Black perspective?

What would happen if we read some books written by Black people, written about the Black experience?  Would they give us some insight into what’s going on in our world?  Would they give us a way to talk, without getting into arguments?  I hope so.

Here’s what I’m suggesting:  let’s all read a book.  And then let’s talk about what we read, about the ways life in that book differs from our lives.  Let’s talk together about the problems the people in the book experience.  And we’ll see what we can learn from that.

The book I’m suggesting is Blanche on the Lam, by Barbara Neely.  It’s available on Kindle (free, if you have Kindle Unlimited, $7 if you don’t), and at Amazon paperback for $14 ($12 at Alibris.com).  It’s a murder mystery, and a pretty good one, mostly set in North Carolina.

We’ll talk about this at next Wednesday’s Tea With the Pastor, so if you have feedback, bring it there or send me an email.

Pastor Virginia

June 11, 2020

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a time-out.  The game’s gone on way too long, there’s been too many extra features.  I’m beginning to lose focus; it’s just not “fun” anymore.  Do you know what I mean?

It turns out, however, that it’s not the right time for recess.  It is, instead, the right time for story time.  It’s the right time for listening instead of speaking, for focusing in a way that allows us to hear the whole story and not just the parts we’ve come to expect will be there.

We’ve all been affected by the protests following the murder of George Floyd – equal parts awe, fear, approval and horror for many of us – followed by the sense that we can’t just leave it here.

What can we do?  What can we do that would make a difference?  Could we put up a banner?  Someone suggested yesterday that we could put up an ALL LIVES MATTER banner… it sounded good, until we realized that if all lives mattered the same, George Floyd wouldn’t be dead today.  So, not that.

The thing is, we’re not really ready to banner up.  We don’t yet know enough, we’ve not heard enough stories.  We’ve heard just enough to begin to realize that there’s a whole part of being American – the part where you’re not white – that we’ve just not noticed.  Think about it – you have to know someone pretty well before they start telling you the stories about the death of a sister, or the murder of their dad’s grandparents in Nazi Germany.    In order to hear those stories, we have to first get to know one another, to demonstrate that we have empathy enough to be trusted with these stories.  The thing is, you can’t just dial up a model person, ready to tell us their stories, in order to school us.  Our African-American siblings are not here to raise us, to be used by us.  So, we need to look for other ways to hear what’s been going on.

The good news is there are a lot of books out there these days.   Reading them is hard.  The stories are shocking and painful.  You might rather watch a movie – they exist as well.  Just Mercy can be streamed free this month.  Have you ever seen the movie Gone With The Wind?  All those dashing men, so beautiful in their grey uniforms, so glorious…. and every one of them thinks it is good and right to own black people as slaves.  What does it mean that the movie’s been so popular?  Or – in a “ripped from the headlines” story…. what does it mean that President Trump intends to give a speech on June 19 – Juneteenth — the day when Texas’ slaves learned they were free?  And how will it feel that he’s giving that speech in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where, in 1921, there was a huge race riot that left as many as 300 African-Americans dead and 10,000 homeless?  And why does he think it a good thing to continue to name major US Army bases after heroes of the Confederate Army, traitors in a war against the United States?

Can we get together and talk about these things?  Is it possible we might read a book together?  Watch a movie?  Talk? Pray? Learn?  If you’d like to try that, email me, or leave a comment on our Facebook page.

Blessings, Pastor Virginia

June 10, 2020 A Little Child Shall Lead Them

June 10, 2020

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.  (Isaiah 11:6)

It seems as though the protests are quieting, and we’re all talking a breath.  We’ve seen the anger, the frustration, and now we might be beginning to ask ourselves what should we do?  What should we personally do?

I’m sure that while some who will read this message are absolutely convinced of the racism in our society, others are not so sure.  And while some of us believe that many police officers abuse their power, others are more concerned about abuse of police officers.  We’re not going to bridge those gaps in our mutual understanding in just one day, or one week, or even in one month.

Today, I’d like to ask you to think about just one story – the story of a little six-year-old girl named Ruby Bridges.  Ruby was the first African-American child to desegregate a previously all-white school in New Orleans in 1960. You may remember the Norman Rockwell painting, The Problem We All Live With”.  Every day, Ruby was threatened, every day she attended school in an otherwise empty classroom because all the other children had been withdrawn from school by their parents.

Usually, when we hear the story of Ruby Bridges, we celebrate her bravery and the courage of her parents; we celebrate the ways she changed the face of education in New Orleans.  But today, I want to ask us each to look at another part of the story.  I want us to look at the people who aren’t in the painting.

The painting shows Ruby and the marshals who protected her.  But it doesn’t show the people who were attacking her.  It doesn’t show the parents who took their children out of school to keep them from being in the same room with her.  Think about those people.  Think about people who were so filled with hate that they would have killed Ruby; so filled with hate that they did kill others.

Think about the hatred that poisons a soul.  We’d like to think it’s gone, wouldn’t we?  But it sure looks like it’s right here, under the surface.  It’s time to start looking under the surface, time to stop just treating the symptoms of discrimination while ignoring the disease of racism.

Ruby Bridges changed her world and her witness is still changing minds today.  Look at the people who hated her, think about racism, wonder what it looks like today, and see what we can do to grow more and more into Jesus’ picture of a people equal in the sight of God, working together to make this world good.

Blessings, Pastor Virginia