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

Day Three

John 4:5-42
“The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.  Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place people must worship is in Jerusalem.”

I don’t know what you did on Sunday morning, but I “attended” the Old South Church’s livestream broadcast.  I chose it because it’s right up in Boston, and I knew I’d hear a word for our situation.  In the midst of a lovely service, I heard the Rev. Nancy Taylor say, “who would have thought that this morning’s lesson would be about where it was possible to worship?”  She reminded us that worship can take place wherever we are.  

Nancy Taylor also reminded us that in the midst of life that is often marked by strain and stress, we can always give thanks for God’s unconditional love.  So, take that thought with you today — you are loved.  You are loved in the quiet of home.  You are loved in the stress of difficult situations.  You are loved even if you have a cough and a fever.  You are loved, today, tomorrow, and forver.

Here’s a prayer for today, from the Church of England:

Keep us, good Lord, 
Under the shadow of your mercy
in this time of uncertainty and distress.  
Sustain and support the anxious and ferful,
and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may rejoice in your comfort
knowing the nothing can separate us from your love
in Christ Jesus our Lord.  
Amen.

and for today’s music, listen to this song, presented by the Oasis Chorale:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OviilwuJVtE

May God be with us all, 
Pastor Virginia

June 8, 2020 Are We There Yet?

June 8, 2020

Psalm 131
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time on and forevermore.

Are you tired of all this yet? Has it gone from exciting to dull to restrictive?  Are you ready, even more than ready, to get back to normal?  It wasn’t enough that we had a death-dealing pandemic, the likes of which we haven’t had to deal with for the last hundred years.  Now we’re also coping with civil unrest and armed guards, attacks on policing, as well as attacks on protestors.

And in every single thing we’re doing, some of us are on one side, some on the other, some stuck in the middle?  Re-open church? yes? no? maybe?  inside? outside?  Can we sing? absolutely not! but I love to sing!!  How much cleaning is enough?  Do we have to swab down the bathrooms every time they’re used?  yes? no? shrug our shoulders?  Can I go outside?  Can I visit the grandkids?  Can they come here?  When is it safe to go to the grocery store?  Eat out?

I don’t know about you, but this is all getting to be more than I expected.  It’s gone on longer than I’d planned.  I’d thought for sure we’d have church inside in the Hall this summer, but at best we’ll have it outside.  I’m going on vacation next month, but where?

But…but …. while it’s unusual for everyone to be dealing with this much stress at once, individually we know it happens.  Three deaths of close family members in three weeks.  It happens.  Move, divorce, change jobs.  It happens.  Stock market crashes and your retirement has to be deferred until your retirement account gains what had been lost.  It happens.

When stuff like that happens, when today turns into tomorrow without ending all this endless stuff, there’s a word from God for us.  One place I hear it is in today’s Psalm:  “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me, but I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a . .  child with its mother…”  Jesus put it this way, “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof…”  And in Alcoholics Anonymous, it comes out one day at a time. 

Do not try to solve tomorrow’s problems today.  Look for the good in this day; enjoy the sparkle of sun on the water, savor the taste of your dinner.  Deal with what has to be done now.  And when it gets to be too much, linger over this prayer, from United Church of Christ leader Reinhold Niebuhr:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

June 6, 2020 . . without tarrying for anie…

If they [the magistrates] be of their flocks, why should they tarry for them — unless they would have the sheep to force the shepherd unto his duty? Indeed, the government may force him, but it is his shame to tarry till he be forced. Be ashamed therefore, you foolish shepherds, and do not lay the responsibility on the magistrates, as though they should do that which in building the Lord’s kingdom the apostles and prophets were not allowed to do! They could not force religion, as you would have the government do, and it was forbidden to the apostles to preach to the unworthy or force a planting or government of the church. The Lord’s kingdom is not by force, neither by an army or strength, as are the kingdoms of the world.
Robert Browne, 1528 (https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/study/module/browne)

On Saturdays, I try to write about the Scripture readings that are appointed for tomorrow.  This week, the readings are for our annual attempt to preach about the nature of God, which given the general unrest in our world, seems a little off topic.  When it feels like our world is shattering, who cares whether God is three persons, but one blessed Trinity?

In fact, however, there is a lesson there for us and it is this:  we teach that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.  We teach that at the very foundation of our world is God as “both/and”.  God is not either Father or Son or Holy Spirit.  God is both Creator and Redeemer and Sustainer.  And here’s how that speaks to today:

Our streets are filled with protestors and police; in some cities, they are fighting as if this were a war.  Fueling this conflict is the idea that protestors cannot be both protesting and good and that police cannot be both protecting and bad.  But there is good AND bad in both.  The insistence on drawing close and high boundaries around each category makes it impossible for us to understand the reality of the problems which drive the protests.  And it makes it difficult to see how the bad apples in our police departments have spoiled the effectiveness of our police all across the nation.

The reading from the Letters for today, from 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, says   “Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

It is not peace if we cannot hear the cries of the oppressed.  It is not peace if we ignore the oppression of those bad apples.  It is not peace if we just assume that random acts of violence towards black people are the exception rather than the rule.  God calls us to live in peace, and so we are called to listen, to really hear, and to allow the truth of our ears and the truth of our eyes to break our hearts open.  Today, the nature of the God we follow tells that only when we see the both/and-ness of our world will we be able to clearly see our path forward.

 

June 2, 2020 What Does the Bible Say?

Romans 8:18-25      I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

So, just sit and wait, right?  Things will be better by and by?  Or do we do something to make things better?

Paul wrote “… creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God. . . creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. . .”  And with the coming of Jesus Christ, the time for waiting is over.

The time for waiting is over.  It’s time for standing up; it’s time for standing for change and growth, for taking actions.  Of course, that’s true of the work of Christians since that first Easter.  We are God’s hands and feet, voice and vision.

It seems like we’ve been cruising along for the past decades, thinking things were hard – and they were hard – but today’s hardis massively harder than anything since our parents or grandparents dealt with unending war.  Only in our case, it’s an epidemic that threatens us all crossed with yet another example of cold-blooded murder of a black man, and then the special sauce of greed and anarchy, roasted over a slow fire of poor leadership.  It’s a hard to stomach combination.  Oh yes, did I forget the economic depression?  The high unemployment?  The closing businesses?  The dropping stock-market.

Our faith was made for times such as these, for it reminds us that there is more to life than stability, it reminds us that stability is more of an illusion than a reality.  It tells us we were made to stand against evil by the power of our faith.  Our prayers matter.  Our witness matters.  Our lives will be spent in clearing our world not just of the outward signs of racism, such as segregation, but the underlying sin of racism.

But before I (or we) get mired in anger about where we are today, let’s spend a little time thinking about what we can do today.  Because we are not without resources in this situation.  For one thing, our faith tells us that change is possible.  It tells us we, none of us, were born to live in a hurtful society.  That gives us hope; things do not have to be like this.

Now I know we are not a powerful group, at least as the world sees power.  But I also know that each one of us does have power.  Change doesn’t really come from the wealthy or from the government; it’s started by people like us.  Ordinary people.

So here are just a few things we can do:  We can refuse to laugh at jokes that put down people of color.  We can refuse to use derogatory terms.  We can make “not in my house” rules and make them stand.  We can smile at people, say something pleasant to that black person in line behind or in front of us at the store.  We can buy children’s books for our grandchildren which help them think through race and racism; by the age of 5 our children have absorbed our society’s biases and have begun to think that “the whiter the better”.  We can read books like “Stamped:  Racism, Antiracism, and You” or any of a number of other good books out today to help us understand the pressures people of color – black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, etc – live with.

No one person will bring in God’s world by themselves. But when we all work together we can move mountains, make miracles, change our world.  And this is one of those times.

Blessings, Pastor Virginia

June 1, 2020

Psalm 113:5-8
Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high,
who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.

Matthew 18:12  —  What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?

It wasn’t enough that we’re living through a global pandemic, businesses shut, more than 100,000 people dead?  It wasn’t enough that we have to search the stores for toilet paper and can’t even hug the grandkids?  It wasn’t enough?

Apparently not.

So, last week police in Minneapolis cold-bloodedly murdered a prisoner, a black man, and now we have riots all over our country, and even overseas.

Because it was one time too often.  And people are fed up.  But, just to add a special sauce, the news reports tell us that mixed in with the protestors are people who’ve just shown up to make things worse.  Some reports say those folks have come from the far left, others say from the far right…. whatever, wherever, we see stores burning, churches burning, police driving their cars into the crowds…. it’s chaos, and it’s so very wrong.

So, where are we?  How do we react to this?  What does it mean in our world?

Psalm 113 tells us that when there’s a choice, God chooses the poor. When there’s a choice, God chooses the needy.  And in the gospels, Jesus tells us that to the great shepherd cares more about the one sheep that is lost than the ninety-nine who are ok.

Those who do not have (whatever) are more important to God than those who are ok.  That means that God cares more about the homeless living in the woods behind the Church of the Nazarene than for those of us with homes and paid-up mortgages.  And it means that God cares more for those who are afraid that if they’re stopped by a police officer they will be killed, than God cares for those of us who are simply embarrassed.

So, if we are to follow God, we too care more for those who have not than for those who have a lot.  We feed the hungry, we clothe the naked, and when someone is ignored, or put down, or attacked, we stand with them. When our police do the right thing, we thank them. When they do not, we help them see the right way.  Because our God teaches us that when we all feel safe, our community is stronger, safer, more prosperous.

May we have the vision to see, and the heart to care, and the strength to action in these chaotic days.

Pastor Virginia