Wednesday, November 8, 2017

[sermon] the veil is thin, the misuses of authority, and other spooky topics

Sermon for the people of God at St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church
All Saints Day Observed 2017-11-05

Preaching Texts: Matthew 23:1-12, Micah 3:5-12.

This is the time of year when the veil between life and death is thin.

For those of us who are a little touched – a little superstitious, a little psychic, a little mystical – it’s a thing we can feel, this time of year when the leaves turn colors, then shrivel and fall, when the first frost comes – the veil is thin and ghosts and spirits are closer than normal.

This is the time of year when pagans celebrate Samhain. This is the time of year, a medieval rabbi tells us, when “there is a night when the souls come out of their graves."

People of many faiths have noticed that this is the spooky time of year.

Which is why we celebrate All Saints Day on November 1, and the day before, October 31 is All Saints Eve – or All Hallows Eve – Halloween.

And the day after, November 2, is All Souls Day.

Some traditions draw – or have drawn in the past – a distinction between All Saints and All Souls Day, where All Souls Day is the commemoration of all the “faithful departed,” that is, all Christians who have died, and All Saints Day remembers those faithful departed who were especially good at being Christian.

We like to divide things into categories, especially when they’re scary – when the spirits of the dead are hovering, we like to be able to sort them out, make them a little more susceptible to our logic and our categories.

It is this distinction between “Saints” and “ordinary Christians” that I want to talk about with you, this All Saints Day Observed – because in life as well as in death we are fond of dividing people into categories.

In many Protestant denominations All Souls Day has been eliminated, or All Souls and All Saints have been merged, working on the assumption that all believers are saints (and of course, that all believers are sinners, even those who are saints), which is in keeping with the faith of our ancestors – the faith of Paul, who addresses letters to the beloved saints of Rome, of Corinth, of Philippi.

And, of course, in keeping with the faith of Jesus, who tells us to call no one rabbi, or father, or instructor – those titles of honor, like bishop, or pastor, or saint, that separate “ordinary Christians” from “super extraordinary special Christians.”

Jesus is addressing an audience with two parts – the crowds, and his disciples.

This is Holy Week, and Jesus has been teaching in the Temple all day, answering challenges from various factions. The crowd that greeted him on Palm Sunday has followed him into the Temple and has been enjoying the show – the overturning of tables, the parables, the arguments with Saducees and Pharisees. The verse that comes right before our passage tells us that from now on, no one dared to ask Jesus any questions. He has overawed them. And, knowing that it is Holy Week and that he is heading to the Cross, Jesus has some final instructions. There are still several more chapters of Matthew’s Gospel before the crucifixion, but this is Jesus’ last chance to address the whole crowd.

So, here is this crowd, gathering for Jesus’ sermon, and he opens by saying that they’re to follow the Pharisees’ teaching, although not their example, which is not a huge surprise – Jesus, like the Pharisees, teaches that religion is a part of life, affecting everything you do.

Jesus identifies the Pharisees who “make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long,” those who don’t just wear religious attire but make their religious attire obvious so that everyone knows that they are very religious. Their phylacteries are boxes holding scripture, designed to remind the wearer of God’s goodness and might in rescuing Israel from Egypt, and of the commandment to love and serve God with heart and soul. But in their ostentatious form they serve more to remind the viewer of the piety of the wearer, rather than to remind the wearer of his obligation to God.

Jesus enumerates the privileges that these very visibly religious people have: the best seats at dinner parties, the best seats in the synagogue, respectful greetings from everyone they meet.

And Jesus says, to his audience of Pharisees and ordinary people and his own disciples, it’s not supposed to be like that, not for Jesus’ followers. They aren’t to claim titles like “rabbi” because Jesus is the only teacher they need. They aren’t to call anyone Father because only God is worthy of that title.

The greatest title in the Kingdom of God, the title that Jesus’ followers should aspire to? “Servant.” If you try to exalt yourself, you’ll be made humble. And the servants will be lifted high.

There is a system – I would say “the old system” but let’s be real, it’s a perpetual system that reinvents itself generation upon generation – that designates some people as “holy” and then gives all sorts of material benefits to those holy people.

The way the system works doesn’t just benefit those to whom those benefits accrue, though. They are part of a system of exchange, where “ordinary people” will give extra respect to religious people in exchange for the religious people “doing their religion” for them.

There are several problems with that. It gives too much power to some people. It gives too little power to others. And most importantly, it gives too little power to God.

-It is not good for anyone to have too much power, in any realm. It’s why our system of government is designed so that no one branch has unchecked power.

There are some people who are not worthy of the authority that we give them. Like those religious leaders in Jesus’ time who put on a show of being religious, wearing the right clothes and saying the right words, but failing to do the right thing, or like the prophets of Micah’s time who “gave oracles for money,” who prophesied good things to those who gave them good things to eat.

We know that the prophet Micah comes from a small town called Moresheth, southwest of Jerusalem, and that he lived about 700 years before the birth of Christ.

The rest of Micah’s biography is found in the passage Rick read this morning. “As for me, I am filled with power, with the spirit of the LORD, with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and Israel his sin.”

Micah condemns a variety of people with formal religious titles – seers, diviners, and the official prophets employed by the king or the Temple to provide guidance. His complaint is that these officials have become mercenary – they will provide good news for the right price, but predict – or perhaps summon – catastrophe against the poor.

Micah contrasts the official prophets, corrupt, greedy, and cut off from God, with his own calling. Micah has been filled with God’s spirit and power, with God’s justice and might and the authority to declare God’s justice to the people of Judah.

The measure of power and authority is not in the job title “prophet” – or “teacher” or “saint” – but in the act of prophesying or teaching.

So, let me be clear, when I talk about “religious authority,” I realize that we are a church with a pastor, a bishop, a presiding bishop, all of whom are faithful and hardworking servants of God. When it comes to whether we have religious professionals, people called “teacher” or “father” or “pastor” – that ship has sailed.

And, while I think there are certain dangers and temptations that are particular to some vocations, there are also moments when all of us are tempted to let other people take care of “doing religion” for us. And those of us with some authority in the church – absolutely including lay leaders and certainly including me – must be careful with the responsibility that comes with that authority and not, well, let it go to our heads.

In a couple of weeks, at Thanksgiving dinner tables around the country, people will turn to their aunts and stepfathers and family friends and say, “You’re a pastor. You say grace.”

We are all equipped to pray. We are not all equally eloquent, but we are all equipped to give thanks to God for God’s gifts. No advanced degree or specialized vocabulary required.

Saying grace at Thanksgiving is a small thing, but there are bigger things that we are willing to let other people be responsible for. Things like building hope, and proclaiming peace, and preparing a way for the Lord.

When I say we let others “do our religion for us” I mean a variety of things.

I mean the belief in magical church fairies who come and set up chairs for events and wash communion cups.

I mean looking at religious people we admire – like the saints we remember today – and deciding that we’ll never be that brave or wise and generous, so we might as well go on being cowardly and foolish and selfish.

I mean, very concretely, the feeling of pride I had when Pr. Donna went to Ferguson three years ago, as if her marching was something I had a claim to.

And to some extent, I mean things that are individual. We are not all called to the same tasks or the same professions. We have many kinds of relationships with God.

and God has designed the Body of Christ so that we each have unique and important gifts, and lack other gifts, so that we must rely on one another.

But no one’s role is sitting passively. There is some role, some task, for which God has uniquely sanctified you – for which God has made you a patron saint.

Maybe you’re a patron saint of paperwork, or of cheerful customer service, or of driving people to church. Maybe you’re a patron saint of low-wage workers, or immigrants, or transgender people.

There is work that only you are equipped to do.

And there is work that we are all called to do. We are all called to pray. We are all called to give from the resources we have. We are all called to study scripture.

We are all called to love our neighbors with active, giving, sacrificial love.

We are all called to the communion table, and called to share its joy with the world.

When we assign teaching and prophecy and holiness to an elite group of people, we remove it from ourselves, put holiness – its power and its obligations – out there, or up there, or back there [gesture to the chancel] or, in the case of the saints remembered today, back then, completely outside the realm of the living.

But this is the time of the year when the boundary between life and death is thin. And holiness has a way year round of slipping past the boundaries we try to place around it. Holiness escapes the walls of the church, the pages of scripture, the lives of departed saints – and makes the whole world holy.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

[pride] Ours is the Task

Ours is the Task: a Litany of Remembrance and Commitment
(Written for the Kansas City Pride Interfaith Service 2017-05-31)

The core of the Litany that we’re about to say comes from the novel Wanderground by Sally Miller Gearheart.
[Gearhart, Sally Miller. The wanderground: stories of the hill women. Boston: Alyson Publications, 1984. Print. Page 196]

I was reading this novel when my friend Jeane died in 2000, which is probably why the ritual of grief that ends the novel engraved itself into my heart.

If you so believe, then so it is:
Ours is the task,
Yours is the passing.
And, although you may, you may not come again.

If you so believe, then so it is
If you so believe, then so it is

Ours is the task
Ours is the task

Yours is the passing
Yours is the passing

And although you may, you may not come again.
And although you may, you may not come again.

We gather tonight as people of many faiths and none, believers and wanderers, pilgrims and proselytes, converts and clergy. We believe in many Gods and none, in many paths to many destinations.

We believe in the transforming power of community and of faith itself.

If you so believe, then so it is
If you so believe, then so it is

We gather tonight to promise each other, our communities, our Gods and our universe that we will stand together for justice.

We are many people, of many faiths, many colors, many genders. We have many ways of worshiping, many ways of loving.

Ours is the task
Ours is the task

Ours is the task of building bridges out of our differences, weaving flags in many colors, writing poetry in many languages, learning from one another and loving those we do not understand.

Ours is the task
Ours is the task

Ours is the task of telling our stories, naming our heroes, remembering our ancestors. Ours is the task of insisting that trans women of color and homeless youth are not erased from our memory of Stonewall. Ours is the task of honoring the messy, complex identities of our forebears without collapsing them into the categories that we prefer today.

Ours is the task of reminding the world that we were not the first men to marry men, not the first women to kiss women, not the first people to realize that gender binaries can’t hold us.

Ours is the task
Ours is the task

Ours is the task of solidarity. It is ours to realize that when any people suffer, when any people are not free, when any people live in danger, we must work for liberation.

Ours is the task
Ours is the task

It is our task to be specific and fearless. It is our task to practice saying, "lesbian," "gay," "bisexual," "transgender," and "queer" precisely and clearly.

It is our task to protect Muslim women riding the bus.

It is our task to end child marriage in all fifty states.

It is our task to raise the minimum wage.

It is our task to write and speak, to remember and pray, to comfort and grieve, to protest and publicize and protect. It’s ours to give what we can from what’s been given to us.

Ours is the task
Ours is the task

Yours is the passing
Yours is the passing

Beloved ancestors: Harvey Milk, Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, Leslie Fienberg, Brenda Howard, Audre Lorde, women and men and queers of all genders, people of all kinds, to whom we owe our communities, people remembered and people lost to history –

Yours is the passing
Yours is the passing

Beloved ancestors who died in the closet, who never found names for yourselves, whose names we’ll never know:

Yours is the passing
Yours is the passing

Beloved generation lost to AIDS, dying fearlessly on statehouse steps:

Yours is the passing
Yours is the passing

Beloved who have been martyred recently:
The 49 victims of shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando
Gay and bisexual men murdered in Chechnya
Brenda Bostick, Sherrell Faulkner, and nine other transgender women of color killed this year in this country:

Yours is the passing
Yours is the passing

We name the horror of your deaths and the beauty of your lives, and with hope and doubt, with faith and fear, we remember you, we honor you, and in your name we say

OURS is the task
Ours is the task

Yours is the passing
Yours is the passing

And although you may,
And although you may,

You may not come again
you may not come again

Sunday, December 25, 2016

[hymn rewrite] Away in a Manger

In this humble feed trough still half full of grain,
placed there by his mother, worn out from her pain,
lies Jesus Messiah his first night alive.
Through groaning and bleeding our savior arrives.

Though Mary's exhausted the baby won't sleep.
He whimpers and fusses and then starts to weep.
With weary arms Mary lifts him to her breast,
croons, "Jesus, I love you, but please let me rest."

The baby who's crying in fresh, itchy hay,
will grow up to teach us, for he is the Way.
Christ loves us and leads us and helps us to learn
to build up God's kingdom until Christ's return.

Monday, December 19, 2016

[remarks] Building Hope

Remarks delivered at the No Divide Kansas City Social Causes Benefit Concert and Fundraiser on 2016-12-18

I am here this evening on behalf of my church. We are one of the beneficiaries of this fundraiser, and we are so grateful to the organizers for reaching out to us.

We know our church name, St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church, is a mouthful. But we try to say the whole thing when we can, because hope and peace aren’t just nice churchy words for us. They are our mission – building hope and proclaiming peace.

And we are so honored to be part of the diverse group of people gathered here today to share what building hope looks like, and to be one of the organizations whose hope-building work will be benefitted by this fundraiser.

One of the tasks of religion is to make meaning out of events, so I'm going to share some of my thoughts about the No Divide benefit, what it means for us to be here together, and what might happen next:

It’s freezing cold outside, friends, and I am so glad that you’ve come in from that cold to be in this place where we are creating warmth together.

So many bodies, here in this place, close together and lending each other warmth, creating warmth between us, sharing warmth and love and light.

Midwinter is a time when we build hope – now, when it’s bitter cold, when it’s dark, when it’s difficult. When most trees have lost their leaves, we notice and honor evergreens. When it’s coldest, we wrap ourselves in brightly colored fleece and light fires in our homes. And when the night is longest, we mark the solstice, and know that the nights will only grow shorter and the days longer. And against darkness and cold, we light candles.

For many of us who are religious, those candles remind us of God's presence with us in the world -- the God who makes one day's worth of oil burn for eight nights, the God who enters the world in a newborn infant, the God who is reborn at the solstice as the sun returns to us.

Here in this place, at this moment, we’ve come together to light candles of hope

I imagine some of you here today are teetering on the edge of despair. Those of you who worked hard campaigning for candidates who didn’t win, those who invested love and energy and hope in a vision that has been at the very least delayed, those of you whose livelihood and lives, whose homes and families, are immediately threatened by the promises that Trump has made.

If your candle has gone out, then look around, and borrow light from someone whose candle is still lit. If the anxiety in your head has drowned out every other voice, then I hope that this afternoon, you’ve been able to hear music alongside that fear, and that you will carry that music in your mind as you go back into the world.

If your hands are chapped and frostbitten with the cold, then I hope that you are able in this place to wrap them in the warmth of someone else’s hands.

If you are without hope right now, then look around, and listen. Feel the heartbeats of your neighbors, and see how beautiful all of us are together, many people, many colors, creating space for beauty against the cold --

If you are tired, borrow strength, and if you are hurting, borrow peace. If you're not sure that you'll be okay-- borrow certainty. And if you're sure that things won't be okay, borrow doubt.

borrow hope from the people around you, and know that we’ve come together today to build hope with each other.

Step into the warmth.

For many people who make building hope and proclaiming peace their life's work, it can be hard to balance the work of activism with -- well, with anything else. Self care, personal relationships, sleep.

So if you are here today as one of those people, I hope that the music and warmth of this day remind you of the world that you're working toward. That can be hard to remember too, caught up in the need to think strategically and the whirlwind of organizing and protesting and fundraising and rallying. That is incredibly important, necessary work, but it is also important and necessary that we hold onto the hope that drives us.

Hope is believing that tomorrow could be better than today. Sometimes it's only that -- "better than today" is the clearest vision that we can summon.

But for the long haul, for the justice movements that are actively, collaboratively building a new world, it's vital that we imagine that world as clearly as we can.

So whether the election has rekindled your zeal for activism or left you bereft of hope, whether you know the work that's in front of you or you're still finding your way, whether you've given your life to working for justice or attending this concert is the extent of your commitment -- or whether, like most of us, you're somewhere between those extremes -- let's all of us, whoever we are and however we came to be here -- imagine a tomorrow that's better than today:

It's so good that all of us are here, where it's warm and safe, where we're protected from the bitter cold and the icy streets. In the world we're working towards, everyone will be warm. No one will live on the streets, and no one's gas bill will go unpaid, and no one will have to choose between heat and food or medical bills. The warmth that we're sharing today is a foretaste of that future.

And it is so good that we are all able to gather here on a Sunday afternoon. In the world that we're working towards, everyone will have a sabbath -- a day to refrain from working, a day of rest. In the world we're working towards no one will have to work more than their body or mind can endure. No one will work two or three part time jobs just to keep afloat, and workers' health and safety will be more important than profit. As we rest together this afternoon, remembering the labor movement that brought us the weekend, we look towards a world where all weary people will be granted rest.

It is good to see so many bodies, many colors, many shapes and sizes, pressed together into one space, bodies hugging, bodies dancing. It's good to see and hear and feel this mass of bodies, to know that diversity is not abstract. And in the world we're working towards, all bodies are honored, always, treasured and respected. In the world we're working towards, people aren't killed as they walk down the street. In the world we're working towards, people are touched only when they want to be. In the world we're working towards, people choose what they do with their bodies. In the world we're working toward, people make choices about when and how they will have children, and in the world we're working towards, transgender people have access to the hormones and surgeries they need. In the world we're working towards, people have access to mental as well as physical healthcare, and there is no shame or stigma attached to either.

So as we gather here together honoring each other and the beautiful variety of bodies we come in, we imagine a world in which all choices and bodies and people are given honor and respect.

It's good to hear so many different voices singing, opera and roots, classical and psychedelic, new voices lifting up old songs and new songs being born in this space. Artists of all kinds -- musicians and painters, poets and dancers -- have the responsibility to reflect reality and to create new visions. And the sampling we've seen today is only the beginning -- a vision in its own right and a preview of a world where all people are free to create, to give form and voice, color and voice, shape and texture and reality, to the worlds they dream.

So as we listen to music today, we catch a glimpse of a future where no one has to surrender their dream because of the demands of practicality, a world where people have access to the education and resources they need. We imagine a world where all voices are cherished -- voices speaking many languages and praising many gods, honroing many heritages and singing many dreams into being.

And it is so, so good that we have all found our way to this city, just as it is good that Kansas City natives have been joined by people from Mexico and Burma, Somalia and Sudan.

So, friends, let's kindle hope bright and warm enough that it can be felt in Aleppo, hope that criss-crosses the world with peace.

It is good that people who grew up feeling isolated in rural America or stifled in the suburbs found their way to a city that welcomes them. It's good, that we've found our way here, that we've found the people who feel like family, the people who don't laugh at our genders or look away from our lovers. It's good that we've found our way home, and now it's on us to let the homelights burn for others.

Let's kindle hope bright and warm enough that it envelops scared, lonely queer teenagers from small towns in red states, that they might know that they're loved by strangers far away.

Let's kindle hope for those whose disabilities kept them home today, whose wheelchairs wouldn't navigate the slick streets, whose anxiety wouldn't permit them to venture outdoors.

It is good that all of us are here, lifelong liberals or zealous converts, committed to progress and convinced that the world is made better by people of many races and religions, every age and gender and sexuality, living across the street from each other, working side by side, sharing our stories and our music, our talents and our dreams. It is wonderful to see how many we are -- the people who are still here, the people who've been in and out this afternoon --

and in four years, in two years there must be more of us. And tomorrow, there should be more of us, because, "Diversity is valuable," shouldn't be a controversial opinion, because the freedom to say who we are and share whom we love and worship as we will shouldn't be limited in the United States, and in a nation that claims to be Christian, care for the poor and welcome of immigrants shouldn't be contested values.

So let's make hope that's clear enough and bright enough to be visible by people of every political persuasion. May the hope that you carry with you tonight be strong enough to open hearts and change minds, to call people into a coalition of movements that by its nature welcomes everyone.

Maybe you came here with hope, maybe this event has built hope in you, maybe you've borrowed hope from the person sitting next to you -- let's take the hope we've brought and built and borrowed, and stoke it into a bright, blazing promise of a better tomorrow, and carry it from this place into the winter night, into our homes and neighborhoods, into the whole wide beautiful world.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

[sermon] the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the city

Sermon for the people of St. Mark Hope and Peace, preached 2015-07-05.

Primary preaching text: 2 Samuel 6:1-10
Secondary text: Mark 6:14-29

The second-most difficult thing for me about this reading from second Samuel is verse 4 -- David was thirty years old when he began to reign. I'm almost thirty, and what have I done with my life? I'm not ruling a nation, and I'm not prepared to start a ministry like Jesus did when he was thirty.

On the other hand, I haven't slain any Jeubsites, so there's that.

The hardest part of this passage are verses 6-8, which, coincidentally, are the verses that the Revised Common Lectionary cuts from this morning's appointed lesson:

6The king and his men marched to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, even the blind and the lame will turn you back” —thinking, “David cannot come in here.” 7Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, which is now the city of David. 8David had said on that day, “Whoever would strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates.” Therefore it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.

In the scripture that many of us read together two weeks ago, David was a young shepherd from Nowheresville who killed a very tall Philistine with a slingshot. Last week, we looked in on David grieving for King Saul and Saul's son Jonathan.

In between those moments, Saul grew increasingly mad, in the sense of angry and also in the sense of not in his right mind. His jealousy of David, who had the Lord's favor, poisoned what had been a mutually beneficial relationship. Saul tried several times to have David killed, and David ended up on the run, fleeing for his life.

He killed a bunch of Philistines and acquired a couple of wives, and he spared Saul's life, even though Saul wanted him dead and he had multiple opportunities to kill him.

Saul died, falling on his sword rather than letting himself be taken captive by Philistines, and, as we read last week, David's grief over his death was heartfelt and genuine.

The few chapters between last week's reading and this week's tell us about the conflict between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms that followed Saul's death. David is the acknowledged and anointed ruler of the southern Kingdom, Judah, where he was born, and for seven and a half years he ruled Judah from the capital city Hebron, while Saul's descendants and followers held Israel, the northern kingdom. Scripture tells us, "There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David; David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker." (3:1)

After seven and a half years, the people of Israel, even Saul's own tribe, the tribe of Benjamin, are ready to accept David as king, and David accepts them as his people.

David has been ruling from Hebron, which belongs to Judah, and it seems prudent that he shift the seat of rule to a neutral city. He chooses Jerusalem, which is about twenty or thirty miles north of Hebron and uninhabited, except for the Jebusites who have been living there for centuries.

David's people came into the city through the water shafts -- tunnels bringing water into the city from an outlying spring -- and struck down the Jebusites. He didn't spare people with disabilities, and it's hard to imagine him sparing the old or the young or the women, either.

And a generation later, those Jebusites who did survive, along with those who were left among the Amorites, the Hitties, the Perizzites, and the Hivvites, were conscripted as slaves. Their forced labor built the temple that Solomon dedicated to God.

Classic rabbinic lore tells us that Jerusalem remained unconquered prior to David because it was part of an early land deal. Abraham made a covenant with the Jebusites: Jerusalem would remain unmolested by Abraham and his descendants, and in exchange Abraham took possession of the cave in which he buried his wife Sarah.

This is why (the rabbis tell us) we read in the book of Joshua that, "the people of Judah could not drive out the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem; so the Jebusites live with the people of Judah in Jerusalem to this day."

The rabbis also tell us that the Jebusites invalidated their covenant with Abraham by going to war against Joshua and his armies, and that when David took possession of the city, he paid the Jebusites its full value.


We are so eager, when we write our histories, to justify the atrocities committed by our ancestors.

And to be clear -- David is just as much our ancestor as he is the ancestor of those rabbis.

Or, name a nation founded by people who conquered a land already inhabited, enslaving those people who weren't killed outright, and who justified that conquest using God's name -- who believed that they'd been given this land by God and that the people who already lived there didn't count as people because they didn't believe in the same God --

Happy Independence Day.

In the fifteenth century, forty years before "Columbus sailed the ocean blue," Pope Nicholas the Fifth granted to the King of Portugal and his successors -- and by extension all Christian rulers -- the right, indeed the divine mandate, to "...invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all [Muslims] and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, to claim the kingdoms [...] possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery."

This papal proclamation helped frame the beliefs that Europeans brought to this land, that it was ours by right, that non-white people were three-fifths people or not people at all, that the people already inhabiting this country didn't count.

When my Puritan ancestors came to Massachusetts on the Mayflower, they believed that the "new world" was a New Jerusalem, promised to them by God as surely as the original Jerusalem had been promised to the Israelites.

As for those people already dwelling here...

John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachuetts Bay Colony,
, "God hath consumed the natives with a great plague in those parts, so as there be few inhabitants left."

Governor Winthrop also generously contended that there was enough land and then some for Puritans and for the various Algonquian tribes already living in the area that would become Massachusetts.

Unfortunately, as I'm sure you know, peaceful cohabitation didn't last, and American greed was outpaced only by American exceptionalism.

At their most charitable, Christians wanted to convert and "civilize" native peoples.

Not all of them were as explicitly racist as the Richard Pratt, who, founding a school for Native Americans in the late eighteen-hundreds, explained:

A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one. [...] In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.... [emphasis mine]

And Pratt was a reformer. He decried the massacre of Indians, and unlike many of his contemporaries believed, "it is a mistake to think that the Indian is born an inevitable savage." He believed that his students could achieve that most desirable of goals -- they could assimilate into civilized culture, by which Pratt meant white culture. There was no need to massacre American Indians -- only American Indian cultures. As if that weren't itself an act of savagery.

My people believed that destiny brought them to this land, that God had ordained this vast, beautiful continent for our possession and peopled it with savages for us to convert and subdue -- at gunpoint if necessary.

This destiny was made manifest in the blood and sweat and tears of Native peoples.

This destiny was made manifest in the blood and sweat and tears of black slaves.


What makes this part of our nation's heritage most appalling is that so many atrocities were carried out in the name of Jesus.

Think about how David established his kingdom: David and his men marched to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of that land.

And this is how Jesus established his kingdom: Jesus went about among the villages, teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out, two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. And his disciples went, and proclaimed that all should repent, and cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and cured them.

David's people came into Jerusalem by stealth to kill its inhabitants; Jesus' people went into the villages openly, carrying no weapons, to live among the people, eating their food, sharing their homes, curing their sick.

To establish David's kingdom, the lame and the blind were killed. To establish Jesus' kingdom, the lame and the blind were healed and restored into society.

David went to Jerusalem to reign over a united Israel.

Jesus went to Jerusalem to die.


Far, far too often, people bearing Christ's name have ignored Jesus' example and used David's tactics to build kingdoms like his. We've trampled on Native lands and then turned around and built fences to keep immigrants out.

We are promised a New Jerusalem in Revelation:

The dwelling place of God is with mortals, and God will dwell with them, and they shall be God people, and God shall be with them in truth, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. Behold: God makes all things new. [Rev 21:3-5 KJV alt]

Some of our ancestors thought that this land would be the New Jerusalem. And some of our ancestors saw the people native to this continent as expendable. The Jebusites, the Amorites, the Hitties, the Perizzites, and the Hivvites were displaced, their cultures destroyed, their people enslaved to build the original Jerusalem.

And the Navajo, the Cherokee, the Massasoit, the Lenni-Lenape, the Iroquois, the Osage, and many more nations were displaced, their cultures destroyed, their people enslaved in the name of building a New Jerusalem.


Remembering guiltily the sins of our ancestors is unhelpful if we don't learn from them, if we don't vow not to repeat them, if we don't repent of the systemic racism that has been part of our heritage of our nation, if we don't boldly do a new thing.

Go, Jesus tells us. Go, and take nothing with you. Go, and accept the hospitality of strangers. Go, and heal the sick. Go, and bear witness to the Kingdom of God. This is why we have named the neighborhoods surrounding our church as our parish and our mission field. This is why we sing together, "Go into the streets and cities, to the farms and families. Tell about the splendid table, God's mercy." This is why we then do just that, why we spill out the front door onto Troost, onto Manheim and the Paseo and Prospect, why we go into this city and into others, to Jefferson City and to Washington DC, bearing the Good News.

This is why every week we share the splendid table and the news of God's merciful, healing love.

We don't need a fearsome king or a mighty army to participate in building God's kingdom. Jesus tells us we don't even need a change of clothes. Just ourselves, and the good news that we bear in our bodies: the Kingdom of God has come near. God is ushering in a new way. A new way of building a kingdom grounded in hope. a new way of being nation-states while living in peace. a new way of loving our country -- which is beautiful, and which is our home -- while still building hope, and singing peace, and holding love in our hearts and our bodies for all God's people.

Hymn of the Day: "This Is My Song, O God of All the Nations".

Sunday, July 12, 2015

[sermon] David danced with all his might

Sermon for the people of St. Mark Hope and Peace preached 2015-07-12

Primary preaching text: 2 Samuel 6:1-2, 5, 12b-23
Secondary text: Mark 6: 14-29

Dancing sounds kind of innocuous to me. Dancing -- it's the little boy who dreams of being a ballerina, the middle school girl trying to get up the nerve to ask her crush on a date.

David, on the other hand, I don't like very much.

I know I've hidden that distaste real well over the past month -- what with the sermons about racism and genocide and the abuse of power and the evils of violence, especially violence inflicted in God's name. So it may surprise you to learn that I don't like David. But... I don't.

Dancing, though -- dancing I love.

David danced before the Lord with all his might.

I've been waiting to preach about that for more like three years than three weeks -- it was three years ago, the last time we were at this point in the Revised Common Lectionary cycle, that my best friend and I talked about how this pair of texts would be perfect if one wanted to have a liturgical dance Sunday.

And then I got here, this week -- actually here, this morning, at seven am -- actually writing this sermon. And here's the thing about dancing with all your might.

It means dancing with all of yourself.

That's what Michel found so distasteful about David's dancing, right? all of him on display for everyone to see.

So there's debate about whether David was actually dancing... mostly naked. He's not totally naked, obviously -- he's wearing a linen ephod. But just what an ephod covers is unclear -- whether it's more like a robe, or more like an apron. And it's unclear whether David was also wearing a robe underneath the more bib-like ephod.

Certainly Michel was scandalized, and whether she was scandalized by her husband actually sharing his... private parts... with all Israel, or whether it was just that she felt it was unseemly that his private devotional life was on display for the whole kingdom, Michel found this dance unseemly, unbefitting of royalty.

The actual nature of the scandal is less important than that Michel found it scandalous and apparently God didn't.


Emma Goldman was many things, including an anarchist and a labor organizer. In the early days of her organizing, she attended a series of events for women in the cloakmaking trade, whom she wanted to recruit into a union.

Goldman writes:

I became alive once more. At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening [...] a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified for one who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement. My frivolity would only hurt the Cause.

I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business. [...] I did not believe that a Cause which stood for, a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. [...]


A young labor activist at a union social, untiring both in her organizing and her dancing.

A little boy in a tutu pirouetting in the cereal aisle of Sunfresh.

A teenager asking her girlfriend to prom.

A king in the presence of his God, dancing with all his might.

Many stories of dancing include the voice of authority saying DON'T.

Boys DON'T do ballet. It's unmanly.

Girls DON'T dance with girls. It's immoral.

Agitators DON'T dance with abandon. It's undignified.

Kings DON'T dance half-naked in front of the servants. It's lewd.

The voice of authority -- the voice of parents, of teachers, of culture, of well-meaning friends and cranky spouses -- puts a lot of DON'Ts on our bodies.

Bodies are dangerous, so we create a lot of rules around them.

And bodies are dangerous.

When I was a kid, I got scolded for turning cartwheels in church.

We can probably think of lots of reasons not to turn cartwheels in church.

I might do damage to myself. I might do damage to furniture or liturgical vessels. I might do damage to nearby people.

Bodies are dangerous, because bodies are powerful.

David dancing before the Lord with all his might holds nothing back.

That includes all the parts of him that Michel thinks should be private.

And it includes too the things that offend my sensibilities.


I dance
to name God with my body
not your body, Michal,
not yours.

Not Saul's who tried to destroy it
or Jonathan's who loved it

the same hands that gathered five smooth stones from the wadi, meant to slay a giant
are lifted now in praise
the same legs that climbed the hilltop whence the littlest lamb had strayed
the same arms that hefted slingshot
then sword
these harpist's hands that once soothed Saul

these hands, these legs, this mass of muscle, journey-hardened and
not innocent in any way

This is all I have God, all I have.
And you --

you spilled over my hair in the in the oils of kingship
I felt your touch in Jonathan's hand --
and Abigail's and Ahinoam's too

-- and Michal's too, at first

It was you, Lord, who protected me in battle,
my breastplate and my shield

So now I remove the vestments of battle and don this priestly garment
your Law is hard, Lord
God, your Law is hard
but here, in the presence of tens of thousands of your people,
here, in the city you gave me
here, I feel your presence
in the throbbing pulse of the city's heartbeat, thousands of voices lifted in thanksgiving, thousands of feet pounding the ground in ecstatic victory
thousands of arms raised upward to you
thousands of hearts


David's dancing body is also a shepherding body and a harpist's body and a soldier's body and a lover's body and a king's body. David's body is exceedingly powerful -- physically and politically -- and he throws all that power into the ecstatic praise of God.

You are invited to bring your whole self here, but since Eve and Adam discovered their nakedness and felt shame, we have been trying to hide parts of ourselves from God.

So we put clothes on our bodies and made rules about who could wear what, and then we put bodies in boxes and made more rules.

A king is not a priest. An agitator is not a socialite.

And so the terrible, dangerous, frightening power of bodies is contained.

Emma Goldman attended her first dance as a teenager, and loved it so much that she wanted to dance forever --

“I will dance!” I declared; “I will dance myself to death!” My flesh felt hot, my heart beat violently as my cavalier swung me round the ball-room, holding me tightly. To dance to death — what more glorious end!

-- and Emma Goldman, passionate and impetuous and fifteen, grew up to be an activist, not in spite of her love of fine clothes and fine men and the joy of movement, but because she loved those things so much that she wanted, with every fiber of her being, for everyone to have access to that same kind of joy.

What would happen if you gave all of yourself to God? You are invited to bring your whole self here, to this place where all are welcome, but I know that there are pieces of me that I don't want you to know, beloved. It's exceedingly hard to be totally vulnerable among other human beings, all of whom are imperfect and fallible.

But we can aim to be vulnerable before God.

And we can give our bodies to God.

I know that's a sentiment that's frequently used to place more limits and rules on bodies -- If my body is God's temple, then I shouldn't defile it by drinking caffeine -- or having sex with women -- or eating cheesecake or getting a tattoo....

That's not what I mean.

I mean something like this:

We do bring our bodies to church. We can't do otherwise, because we are bodies just as much as we are spirits. And if we invite God into our lives, we invite God into every part, not just the ones we're proud of.

That's what God asks of us. That we love God with heart and soul and mind and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. That we love God with everything we have, everything we are, everything we feel and think and dream, and all the things we do with our bodies.

David, dancing before the Lord with all his might. There are things that I don't like about David, and things Michel doesn't like about David, and things David doesn't like about David -- but in the moment of worship, that doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if David's body is lovely or ugly, if his deeds are noble or atrocious, only that, in that moment, he has come before God and given God worship with everything he has and everything he is.

The things that you bring this morning that you don't love -- the things that you are that you're not proud of -- the things you don't understand -- they are God's.

I don't know what they are (for you -- I know mine all too well) and I don't know what they mean:
-your temper
-your thighs
-your addiction
-your bruises
-the knot of anxiety in your stomach
-your jealousy
-your hunger -- for cheesecake, or for human connection, or maybe for both, or maybe for something else

-- all your hungers, all your fears, all your pain, all your faults, all your shallowness and frivolity and your love of cheesy Netflix sitcoms and your inability to keep the bathroom clean --

All of those things that are you, even though you wish they weren't. Your love of dancing, when the world wants you to be a Srs Bsns Social Justice Agitator. Your distaste for dancing, when the preacher went on for fifteen minutes about how great it is. Your inability to dance.

All of you.

God loves you, and that includes all of you, every piece. And when you dance before the Lord with all your might, then all of you, every piece, hungry or wounded or bitter or violent, sad or worried or bored --when you dance before the Lord with all your might, you give glory to God

and you are God's presence in the world.


[Hymn of the Day: Lord of the Dance]

[Emma Goldman quotes from her autobiography, Living My Life.]

Sunday, June 28, 2015

[sermon] on activism, shame, power, and pride

Sermon for the people of St. Mark Hope and Peace 2015-06-28

Primary Preaching Text: Mark 5:21-43
Secondary Text: 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27

I fully intended to talk about David today.

If you're my friend on Facebook you might have seen that weeks ago I posted excitedly about this text being appointed for this day, the eve of the 46th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. The love of David and Jonathan, and particularly this text from Second Samuel is beloved in many lgbtq Christian and Jewish spaces because we can so easily claim David as one of our own -- especially for gay and bisexual men, this is a story that we can look to and say unabashedly, David is one of ours. Rev. Nancy Wilson, current moderator of the Metropolitan Community Church, says, exuberantly and with exclamation points, that David is the most clearly bisexual figure in the whole Bible.1

I was planning to preach about David until yesterday afternoon, when I finally noticed the woman who'd been tugging at my sleeve all week. My plans to talk about David, central to the institutions of both church and state, and what Rev. Wilson calls, a bit anachronistically, his "same-sex, lifelong relationship" with Jonathan, were disrupted and interrupted by a person on the very fringes of society, a person in desperate need who demanded -- and demands to be seen and heard and healed.

In this complicated moment in our nation, when joyous news from the Supreme Court and tragic news from Charleston compete for our emotions, the woman with a flow of blood speaks more fully to my identity as a queer person and our identity as a Reconciling in Christ church than does King David with all his power.

The woman with the flow of blood is the filling in a sandwich story about the healing of Jairus's daughter. Jairus is a person of power and influence, a leader in the synagogue. He summons Jesus to heal his sick daughter, and Jesus goes with him, and on their way, they're interrupted by a woman who has suffered in many ways for the way her body is made.

There are physical torments of her constant hemorrhaging, and the ungentle and unsuccessful cures she's endured from a stream of doctors, and then there is the cultural torment of being perpetually unclean. She is excluded from her society, rendered untouchable by the flow of blood she can't control.

She has nothing to lose. She's spent all her money on ineffective doctors and she had no social capital to begin with. Her physical condition has deteriorated, and she constantly endures rejection. Everything in her culture has taught her that bodies like hers, and her body in particular, are shameful.

So she reaches the point beyond shame, beyond propriety, beyond fear, where her need for healing is greater than any force that would constrain her.

Forty-six years ago, the patrons of Stonewall reached this point. The police raided a gay bar, as the police did. And that night, when tempers were hot, when activism was in the air -- Vietnam, civil rights, women's liberation -- that night drag queens and trans women, bulldykes and sex workers, homeless youth, most of them people of color, all of them people who had nothing to lose and so nothing to fear -- that night those patrons of Stonewall Inn refused to comply.

A few years earlier, transgender and transsexual patrons of Compton's Cafeteria reached that point, and they threw first coffee, and then dishes and furniture at police in protest of harassment and mistreatment.

The nineteen-eighties and nineties were full of those moments, and ACT UP, (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) picketed and protested to draw attention to the AIDS crisis, to demand access to medical intervention, to share accurate information about HIV transmission and safer sex. A people dying of AIDS screamed that "SILENCE=DEATH" and refused to be silent.

This past Wednesday, Jennicet GutiƩrrez, an undocumented trans Latina activist, reached this point at the White House LGBT Pride Month Reception. She interrupted President Obama's speech to shout, "Release all GLBTQ immigrants from detention and stop all deportations!" She later wrote, "In the tradition of how Pride started, I interrupted his speech because it is time for our issues and struggles to be heard."2


In the tradition of Pride, and in a tradition older than Pride. In the tradition of Jesus, who announced in the Nazareth synagogue that he had been sent to proclaim release to the captives, and in the tradition of Isaiah, whom Jesus was quoting.

And in the tradition of a nameless woman with a hemorrhage, who had endured all that she could endure.

She didn't ask.

She took.

When we remember the activism of the previous century, we sometimes sugarcoat it. Last fall we saw many white lgbtq people deride the protests in Ferguson, crying, "Remember Stonewall! Peaceful protest is totally possible!"

Oh yes. Remember Stonewall, with thrown pennies, thrown bottles, thrown shoes. Remember the patrons who thought to set the bar on fire.

We don't need to condone violence to remember that it's part of our history.

The path that led to the Supreme Court decision this week that legalized same-sex marriage across the country was not always peaceful and it was not always nice. It did involve middle-class gay men and women asking nicely if they could please have their rights now, if it's not too much of a bother.

And it involved thrown shoes and burning police cars and groups called Lesbian Avengers and Queer Nation and Transexual Menace. It involved shouting and crying and name-calling.

There are couples who have waited patiently for decades to get married, and we rejoice with them this week.

And there are couples who got married decades ago who fudged applications for marriage licenses, people who changed their names to more gender neutral alternatives.3 Further back in time, there are people who didn't ask, but simply lived as members of their true genders, butches and trans men who married women and were their husbands.

There are Lutheran pastors who waited patiently for ELCA policy to change. And there are Lutheran pastors who were ordained extraordinarily years before the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.

There are people like Jairus, people with power and with a lot to lose, who got on their knees and begged.

And there are people like the woman with a flow of blood, people with no institutional power and nothing at all to lose, who reached out and claimed power, demanded healing.

Violence is still not God's will for God's people. God still doesn't want us to harm each other; God doesn't want us to take what's not ours. God has made that perfectly clear. We can and should feel conflicted about those parts of our history. Reaching out and touching a person in a crowd -- on purpose and without permission -- is a blatant violation of bodily autonomy, and that is also not okay.

But it's understandable.

Activism is not pretty, because it arises from the mess we've made of the world.

There is a point of desperation where everything falls away but the need for healing.

From the outside, it's a stillframe, a single moment in time of explosive rage, or uncontrollable weeping, or a woman reaching out her hand.

But inside, it's year upon year of oppression and pain.

It's the experience of an African-American woman, a single mother working two minimum wage jobs, whose body bears the aches of standing all day every day, of working through illness, of walking the long mile from work to the bus stop, the half mile from the bus stop to day care, from tensing whenever she sees a police officer. Whose face aches from smiling at customers and wishing them a nice day. Whose heart aches from the death of her husband to gang violence, the incarceration of her brother, and the endless, endless news stories about anti-black violence, and the stories her friends tell that don't make the news.

It's the experience of a transgender woman whose body aches with an undiagnosed condition because she can't access a health care provider who will treat her with dignity, whose muscles are tense from cringing whenever she walks alone after dark, who spends day after day warding off crude sexual advances but who can't find a partner who loves her for herself.

It's the experience of an African-American man, perhaps the most powerful man in the world, whose body aches from sleepless nights, whose head aches from recalcitrant congresspersons, and mostly, whose heart aches with the death of his siblings in the place that was their sanctuary. It's the experience of President Obama, whose wisdom and education and credentials and deep faith are invisible to those who, still, after eight years, see only the color of his skin.

It's the experience of the heroines and heroes of Stonewall, women like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha Johnson, who sold sex and took drugs and sometimes lived on the streets and felt themselves excluded from the movement they'd started, pushed to the side for the sake of the politics of respectability.

It's the experience of a woman whose body is despised by her society, who's been abused by the medical establishment, and who lives in poverty, alone and outcast.

Let me be clear, these experiences, all of them, are only part of the story of people's lives. There are moments too of transcendent joy, moments of beauty and love and laughter.

But in this time of grief, in Ferguson and Charleston and all the places in between-- this is a moment that's poured onto people already hurting from year after year of violence and fear.

This is a moment of pain, but also a moment of possibility, a moment of promise.

Those moments in scripture, those moments in history, this moment now --

The moment when survival is more important than manners, when the only words that will give voice to anguish are not polite words, when power that's been stolen from people and hoarded by institutions must be reclaimed --

that moment when with thrown rocks and raised voices and a hand lifted up to touch the fringes of power

that moment of desperate hope reaching up from anguish

it's that moment when God's power flows like lightening into the hands of God's people.

God can transform a bleeding woman's desperate faith into healing and restoration. God can transform angry arson and vandalism into the rainbow people who rejoiced on Friday. God transforms debt into jubilee, slavery into freedom, death into life.

The world fills us with shame -- for the shape of our bodies and the depth of our grief, for our passions and our pleasures, for the places we live and the clothes we wear, for the color of our skin and the fluency of our language, for who we love and for who we are.

Activism is the moment when people who have been made ashamed become shameless, because we have nothing left to lose and no other recourse left.

And grace is the moment when shame and shamelessness alike are transformed into pride.


1Wilson, Nancy L. Our Tribe: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Bible. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995. Print. 146.

2GuttiƩrez, Jennicet. "I Interrupted Obama Because We Need to Be Heard." Washington Blade. Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc, 25 June 2015. Web. 28 June 2015.

3Eckholm, Erik. "The Same-Sex Couple Who Got a Marriage License in 1971." The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 16 May 2015. Web. 28 June 2015.