What Happened When the Stranger Came to Town?

a sermon preached at the First Church UCC, Middletown CT on Palm Sunday, March 28 2021

Philippians 2:5-11

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. 

And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 

             “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, 

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

What went wrong?

Why did the Sunday crowds – the calls of support, the enthusiastic palm wavers – why was it all gone and forgotten by Thursday night?

We can’t just gloss over what happened, pretend it doesn’t matter,  and skip right ahead to the joy of Easter.  It matters; it changes the entire course of our understanding of what the world is really like and who Jesus is.

So – why did the raucous joy of Sunday die away into the disaster we know this week will be?

Is it because he was second-guessed by his companions, who were everlastingly saying “don’t say that, it’s dangerous” or “wouldn’t it be better if . . . “ or even “ when you’re in charge, promise to make my brother and me important people….”   Well, we surely do see signs of that, but it’s not his companions who kill him; not even Judas wanted him dead.  No, I don’t that’s it.  

I think it’s more basic than envy, or worry, or anything personal. 

I think it’s because he’s from Nazareth, and we know no good thing can come out of Nazareth? So Jesus was doomed to failure because of his background.  

Let’s look at this a little closer.  Does it ever happen that we discount people because of where they come from?  Do we listen to a broad Texas accent and assume that person is not well-educated?  Do we look at someone who’s just immigrated and assumed they didn’t know what they were doing?  If you’re a woman and a physician or a dentist, how often has a patient said they’ll wait for the real doctor?

And what if you’re really different… different enough that the police watch you?  Different enough that a store detective follows you throughout the store?  Does anyone look at you scornfully because you’re “from Nazareth”.  

If it’s never happened to you, can you imagine what it’s like for those who live this out every day?  Even here, even now,  it happens.  People get angry when they see  you.  People mutter, you don’t belong here…. you’re from Nazareth.  Or you’re poor.  Or you’re Black.  or a woman. . . Or you are Asian.  or you moved here from Hartford, or the wrong side of New Haven.  Nazareth isn’t just a place in Israel; it’s where people who are hated for existing live.  Gay people, bi-people, Black people, poor people, immigrants, and Asian massage parlor workers – they’re all from Nazareth, from a place where no one matters, where everyone can be treated like dirt by all the people don’t live THERE.

One minute Jesus was like Martin Luther King Jr at the Lincoln Memorial, with an immense crowd hanging  on his every word…. and the next, he was just another yokel from Nazareth, poor, powerless and nothing but trouble.

And they’re going to kill him for it.  

Because Jesus wants a world where everyone matters.  He’s not content with a world where “color doesn’t matter”; it’s not enough to say Asians love math.  He wants a world where everyone is welcome, as they are, without changing the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes, without doing their best to look like, act like, sound like, and even eat like, the people with the power.  

The Romans were as civilized as it got in their time… and they didn’t want to see Jesus succeed, because his teaching would destroy their empire.

The local power structure saw only another troublemaker from out of the boonies.  He was from Nazareth, not the big city and they didn’t want him opening eyes to the ways the world was wrong.

His own people feared his power, and one of them betrayed him.  No one gets away free from this one.  

Ibram Kendi says we are all putting down the people from Nazareth every time we close our eyes to racism and he’s right.  The person who sounds good so long as they’re saying what we want to hear became dangerous the minute they start naming the truth of discrimination.  

I’d already written and recorded last Sunday’s sermon when the news came of the shooting of Asian women in Atlanta.  Now, as I’m working on the Palm Sunday sermon, comes the news of yet another shooting in Boulder, Colorado.  Eight people, six Asian-American women, one week; ten more people the next.  Let’s be clear; we’ve not yet learned the lesson of Holy Week.  Hatred kills.  It killed then; it kills today.

Our Black Lives Matter banner made people nervous when we put it up, and I dare say there were people who wished we weren’t doing it.  It was a dangerous choice.  But the events of the past ten days should tell us that there is no other more effective way for us to lay right out there on Court Street that we want to shut hate down.  We stand against killing people…and hate kills.  

Jesus spent his ministry telling the truth.  It was his way of putting up a Black Lives Matter banner and it was dangerous then, as it is now, to say truth.  But it was even more dangerous then, and now,  to be the people from the Nazareth’s of our world.  We’ve begun to learn a lesson Black people, dispossessed people, have known forever:  you don’t even need to be doing something dangerous to be hated; people from the world’s Nazareths are hated because they exist.

Vice-President Kamala Harris spoke in Atlanta after the first shooting and she told truth: “Racism is real in America, and it has always been,” Harris said. “Xenophobia is real in America and always has been. Sexism, too.”  

We’d love to think we’re perfect, that whatever problems we have are minor faults and that none of us would do “that”, whatever that mean, short-sighted or greedy thing might be.  But Vice-President Harris is right.  Racism is real – and part of who we are – and that means those stuffy old Calvinists were right.  We are sinners.  We can work at our sins, but we can’t pretend they don’t exist.  

On that first Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem with crowds calling his name; his followers saw all their dreams on the threshold of coming true.  The world, they all thought, was gonna change.  It did, of course, but not the way anyone wanted. 

The best person we ever saw was from Nazareth. And it got him killed, not because he’d done anything wrong, but because human beings were incapable of seeing the truth of a stranger come to town to tell the truth.

Jesus died for our sins.  And chief among them then and now is the sin of hating the stranger, the …the other.  So it was then, so it is now.

May God have mercy on us.

Amen.

Been Down So Long. . .

a sermon preached at the First Church UCC, Middletown CT on March 21, 2021

SCRIPTURE READING:                                                                                     Ezekiel 37:11-14

Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

Maybe you, like me, remember when Richard Farina died.  If you do, you probably know more about him and his work than I ever did – I was in my country music stage in those days, but I was at least aware of Joan Baez and that Richard Farina was her brother-in-law.  I only heard of him when he died in a tragic motorcycle accident and probably the only reason I remember him at all is the title to his only book: “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me”.   And, truthfully, I’ve never read the book.  The title was enough.  I’d been down often enough to understand the truth of the words:  been down so long it looks like up to me.

I don’t know about you, but seems to me that there’s a sort of truth there, and it points towards something really important.  Most of us get through childhood before we discover that there’s going to be tough spots in life.  But whether we learn it in a childhood spent in the foster-care system, or when a sibling dies – or we don’t learn it until we’re adults and thanking God we got on at the Tampax factory, or discover that our PhD won’t get us the job of our dreams –or in some other way, we discover that life is not perfect.  Not by a long shot.

The smartest, happiest, most blessed kid in the youth group is struggling with her identity.  Dad has a drinking problem.  I can’t seem to get out of debt.  Well, I don’t imagine I need to go on.  We all know it, or suspect it – life is full of hard stuff, and it doesn’t all turn out right.

The question isn’t, does this happen; the question is where is God in all this?  And that leads me to this morning’s lesson, from Ezekiel.  The lesson is part of the story of the valley of dry bones; a place where Ezekiel experiences God bringing back life to what the people think is dead.  “[the whole house of Israel believes]. . .our bones are dried up and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely. .”  

Well, I don’t know about you, but that sure describes my own experiences when the world is going wrong.  Left out, let down, losing everything important, alone, everything important gone in some way or another.  My bones are dried up and my hope is lost.

But Ezekiel doesn’t stop the story there; he re-tells God’s promise:  “Oh my people I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live. .”   Live, live with God.  But live in a way eternally changed by all that’s happened.

My sister died when I was three.  I never met her; she died the day after she was born.  And yet her life, and her death, continue to be a part of my life, decades later.  God did not bring her back; God didn’t – in my opinion – even give us much comfort in the days following her death.   Not that people didn’t try; it just wasn’t much help.  We all, each in our own way, turned away from God for a long time, and we didn’t all come back.  But as time went on, I began to understand God’s presence in our world and the ways that line could be true.  I don’t think that, at the time, it would have been comforting if Jesus himself had knocked at our door to comfort my parents.  And I sure would have been confused.

What helped me “get” how God comforts us?  As I grew older (remember, I was three when this happened) I saw that we weren’t the only folks this had happened to – my father’s parents had lost two of their five children.  I won’t bore you with the details but it was clear that they’d dealt with a number of disasters, and it was God who had brought them through.  They were in church every week; they sang the songs, served on Boards and Committees, made most of their friends there; and they found something there which kept them going.  

I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that Frederick Buechner in his comments about Job in today’s bulletin has the right of it.  There’s more going on than we’ll ever understand.  It’s not the understanding that’s the strength of our relationship with God – it’s the companionship that really matters.  In the depths of crisis, we’re probably not going to be able to perceive God’s presence, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  The story’s told that when he was deeply depressed, Martin Luther, the great Reformer, used to remind himself, “I am baptized.” so that he could remember that in baptism, God had promised to be with him forever.  Baptism is the outward and visible sign of God’s promise to be with us forever, good times and bad.  

Our hope is that we will be prepared with a faith in God that can endure the toughest times;  but remember, even those who knew Jesus gave him a hard time when Lazarus died.  The best among us doubt when the worst happens.  If, when those bad times come, you cannot perceive God, you are not alone.  God is still with you.

We are never alone.  God is always with us.

Amen.

Evil Produces Evil; How Shall We Respond?

Luke 6:45:  The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.

On Wednesday morning it was Georgia which captured my interest.  Who would win?  What would happen in the Senate?  During my morning Zoom meetings – Tea with the Pastor and the Staff Meeting, I kept an eye on the results and the day was looking better and better.  The returns were promising, the Zoom conversations had been great.  My next Zoom meeting was with the Interim Search Committee; we were having a lovely time talking with one another, making some plans for the future, when in the background of my computer screen, I saw the headline “Capitol on Lockdown”.  Suddenly a day which had brimmed full of promise, re-filled with horror.

We all had many of the same experiences – a day was proceeding, much as you hoped, and then… absolute and complete horror as we saw, together, a mob running up the steps to the Capitol, surging through the halls, driving the members of Congress into safe hiding places.

It wasn’t hard to see what that mob wanted to do – they sought to disrupt the process of certifying the votes of the Electoral College in the deluded belief that, if they succeeded, Donald Trump would simply continue to be President.  (In point of fact, if they had succeeded, Nancy Pelosi would become President until things were straightened out.)  I could almost appreciate the irony that if there’s anything they’d like less than Joe Biden as our next President, it would be Speaker Pelosi.

But there was no space to appreciate irony on Wednesday.  Actual live, theoretically human, people paraded in our Capitol wearing sweatshirts that said “Camp Auschwitz – Work Makes Freedom” or “6MWNE” (six million [Jews] were not enough).  Some of the police who were supposed to protect our government opened barriers for the mob to swarm over the building, even while others put their lives on the line.  In the midst of all this, a United States Senator was photographed encouraging the rioters. The President encouraged them as well.  Today, the Capitol is littered with debris and five people are dead.  

How do we understand and cope with the depths of depravity we saw?  How do we deal with our own anger?

On Wednesday morning, at Tea with the Pastor, we were struggling with the nature of evil – does evil really exist?  Much of the time, we believe that people are basically good.  We have stepped away from that old Puritan belief in everlasting evil.  But then come days like Wednesday, and scenes such as I described.  It is nothing but evil to celebrate the murder of Jews.  It is nothing but evil to step away from your responsibility to protect.  It is nothing but evil to incite a mob to violence, or to take advantage of that violence to make money.

But evil cannot prevail.  That is the truth of the Resurrection.  Christ rose from the dead as a sure sign that love overcomes evil.

How do we live with our feelings?  I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s incredibly angry.  Over the years, I’ve learned two things about times like this, times filled with frustration and anger.  First of all, we’re still in the middle of things.  It’s natural and expected that we’ll be tossed this way and that.  it doesn’t mean we’ve been thrown off our foundations; it means that things are still happening.  But we don’t have to indulge those feelings.  If you’re angry, you’re angry, but it’s not exactly where you’ll be in seven days.  

And the second thing I’ve learned?  It’s not to make decisions before I have to, not to take action until it’s necessary.  Give yourself time to think things over, to see how it all plays out.  We’re not going to forget, but we don’t yet know all we will, especially over the next two weeks.

In the meantime, we’re not going to ignore what’s happened.  We, here in Middletown, will wait to see how things play out, but our Senators – Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy – are in the midst of things.  “This is a time,” writes Tony Robinson, “to do the right thing.”  Love doesn’t mean ignoring evil, or giving evil unlimited permission to do what they want.  All people are welcome in God’s love, but all behaviors are not.  

Bill Moyers points out that there can be no “moving on” or “looking to the future” before facing the truth. People have broken the law and they are being arrested, will be tried, and will be jailed.  Rioters have lost their jobs.  Those who instigated, encouraged and supported the riot are being investigated.  While we wait for clearness as to what happened and who was involved, we have a job.  Our work, our calling, in the midst of all this is to continue to proclaim the power of love.

Where some proclaim that it is the Christian way to “stand up for America” and try to tear down our democracy, we will continue to live our belief that the Christian way is a way of welcome.

We may still wish that evil did not exist, but today we know it does.  Out of the strength of our faith in God’s everlasting goodness, however, we will be church, love God and serve our neighbors.

Blessings, 

Virginia

August 18, 2020

Jeremiah, that Old Testament prophet, still speaks to today.  Nancy Taylor, of Old South Church, showed us how he can help us see how to live in a world turned upside down.  Today, we’re going to take it a little further.

Jeremiah wrote for a people whose world had been turned upside down.  They’d lost a war, and King Nebuchadnezzar ruled that the leaders – nobles, lords, the wealthy, the religious leaders, scribes – all had to be exiled to Babylon, so that they would not revolt.  The exiles did not know when or if they would ever be able to return to their lives in Jerusalem.  Babylon wasn’t a bad place to live, but it wasn’t home.  So, they spent much of their time trying to make this new place as much like the old place as they could, trying to hold onto “the way it had always been”, living, as it were, in suspended animation until they could get back to real life.

Into that setting came the word from Jeremiah:  “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.  But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”  (Jeremiah 29:5-7)  Eventually, he says, you will come home, but not for a long time, so settle in and live where you are.  That sure sounds like the world we’re in right now – turned upside down by COVID, turned upside down by recognition of racial divides, turned upside down by organizations busy building dividing walls of hostility, turning us on each other.

Whenever I think about what’s going on these days, I flash back to fourth grade and the stories about those who went west in wagon trains across the prairies.  You probably read the same stories…. brave pioneers, wonderful Conestoga wagons loaded to the gills with the stuff of their old lives?  Do you also remember how as the wagon trains made their way across Nebraska, the trails got more and more difficult?  Muddy? Rocky? Deep ruts?   And the pioneers had to choose – which was more important – getting there? or keeping their stuff?  Because they couldn’t have both.  They could go back to home with their stuff and give up their dreams or they could toss the heavy stuff that was weighing them down, toss it off the wagons, toss it to the side of the trail.  As the pioneers traversed the Great Plains they cast off more and more of their former lives in order to move ahead into an unknown future.

We’re traveling a new trail these days, a trail to a new way of being a country, and we’re in the middle of the part where we have to decide.  Will we hold onto all that’s familiar, even if it weighs us down so much we can’t move beyond yesterday’s prejudices and assumptions?  Or will we toss that old stuff over the side, and with lightened hearts and renewed hope, will we move into a different way of being – a way where everyone has a safe place at the table?  It’s hard; there’s no doubt about that.  If you’ve ever moved, you know how hard it is to give up stuff you’ll not need again.  But if you drag the old stuff, the stuff that doesn’t fit, doesn’t work, won’t be needed… well you won’t have space for the new stuff that fits your new life.

In these tough days, we are dumping a lot of stuff that has held us back, and letting go of it all is hard.  Our favorite joke is no longer funny.  The trust we’ve had in our law enforcement has been betrayed by a few bad apples, and in some parts of our country, the bad apples are winning.  We have to toss aside the belief that “someone else” will guard our guardians, and take up the responsibility of supporting our good police.   

We are traveling into a new land, not just because of the COVID pandemic, but because of things we have seen, things we have learned.  We can’t just close our eyes, click our heels, and be taken back to last year’s reality.  We are here, now, and have to live today.  In this reality, Jeremiah says to us, build homes, plant gardens with seeds of faith, and hope, and love; work hard and reap a harvest for a new reality.  In this new world, we are more open to hearing the stories of hardship, the realities of wrong-doing, and responding with God’s everlasting love.

May it be so!

Pastor Virginia

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