Acknowledging ‘White Privilege’

privilege and racismThe words ‘white privilege’ have been bandied around by pundits, the media and in general conversation, and while many of us accept that it exists, we are not sure what it means. The best definition of ‘white privilege’ that I have found came from a class in women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts:

a set of advantages and/or immunities that white people benefit from on a daily basis beyond those common to all others. White privilege can exist without white people’s conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country.

The biggest problem with white privilege is the invisibility it maintains to those who benefit from it most. The inability to recognize that many of the advantages whites hold are a direct result of the disadvantages of other people, contributes to the unwillingness of white people, even those who are not overtly racist, to recognize their part in maintaining and benefiting from white supremacy.

White privilege is about not having to worry about being followed in a department store while shopping. It’s about thinking that your clothes, manner of speech, and behavior in general, are racially neutral, when, in fact, they are white. It’s seeing your image on television daily and knowing that you’re being represented. It’s people assuming that you lead a constructive life free from crime and off welfare. It’s about not having to assume your daily interactions with people have racial overtones.

White privilege is having the freedom and luxury to fight racism one day and ignore it the next. White privilege exists on an individual, cultural, and institutional level”.[1]

To quote African -American author, James Baldwin, “Being white means never having to think about it.

Many of us at Saint John’s benefit every day from our ‘white privilege’. We don’t even acknowledge that we have it, and indeed, enjoy a life that people of color can only dream of, but do not often attain. Life’s path is smoothed for us; the entire world is set up to give us every advantage, allow us to come out on the top. Moreover, we don’t want to talk about the fact that we are privileged, or even think that our privilege directly affects the lives of millions of people of color. We do not have to worry about whether our children will return safely as they walk home from school, or if they are driving, will they be stopped for the most minor of offenses and jailed. I have an African-American friend who does not drive in Bexley because the police consider ‘driving while black’ a reason to stop him. We don’t have that worry. And even if we are stopped by the police, we don’t fear that we will be assaulted or shot. We don’t have to teach our sons how to avoid harassment when they are doing nothing wrong. People don’t cross to the other side when we walk down the street, or hold tight to their purses when we pass by.

Racism is about much more than our feelings toward one another, or about differences that we can fix with talk of tolerance or color blindness. The story of race is an ideology of difference that shapes our understanding of ourselves, the world we inhabit, and the communities in which we live. Racial thinking assigns value to human beings who are grouped within artificial categories. We do not need to embrace contrived notions of racial differences, in the name of inclusion, but to examine to the depth of our hearts how we really feel about people of color. Tolerance is not acceptable; we must search until we can truly look at any other person as equal to ourselves. By minimalizing another person, we are dehumanizing not only them but ourselves.

In light of the murders and shootings of people of all colors in the past few months and most recently, we, may be appalled or anguished, but may not see these events are directly related to the long-standing racism in our nation stemming from slavery. Progress for people of color has been slow, and halting; cultural attitudes and habits have changed at a glacial pace. We think we have made progress, but we have become so used to the ‘racial divide’ in our nation, that in many cases, we do not even realize it is there! The sad and shocking thing is, these killings will continue. Too much of white America doesn’t see the problem. Many subconsciously believe that the shooting victim(s) “deserved it”!

None of this means the situation can’t change. However, until the white people in America can see clearly this injustice occurring, and realize the freedoms and values that we as Americans believe in are not available to everyone, it will continue. Until it tugs at our own sense of fairness and justice, a lot of white people in America will remain unmoved to act. Denying the impact of white privilege on this country’s judicial system creates more injustice, more inflamed rhetoric, more grief, more rage. . . and more deaths!

I saw a sign held by protester at a rally that said: ‘White Silence is Violence’.

Truly, if you do not listen to others who are not like you, keep silent when disparaging words are spoken, don’t hold people accountable for their discriminatory conduct, you are just as complicit in racism as those who hold a gun or burn a cross or lynch a man.

White people are in a position of power in this country because of a long-standing power structure that they control. In the opinion of many, much of the political unrest that we are now experiencing stems from the fact that we fear we are losing that control. Are we brave enough to use our ‘white privilege’ to correct that system or power structure? Are we, as white people, willing to do what it takes to stop the systemic murder of young black men, the institutionalized school-to-prison pipeline, the deep, bleeding wound that is racism in America. It is a hard pill to swallow that, in many ways, white people are the source of the problem and only we can change it! People of color may yell, scream, cry, plead or demand justice, but until we are willing to get really uncomfortable with our own participation in a racist society, nothing will change.

Don’t delude yourself that you do not have the power. You may say ‘I’m not racist — I have black friends! I’m a good person!” You may not be rich and you may truly struggle with daily aspects of your life. You probably are a good person, and you may have black friends. BUT, you still benefit from institutionalized racism.

Andrew Rosenthal, a writer for The New York Times, stated:

“The point of the “Black Lives Matter” movement is not that the lives of African Americans matter more than those of White Americans, but that they matter equally, and that historically they have been treated as if they do not.[2]

Speak with people of color, listen, to learn — or perhaps more appropriately, unlearn the racism that has been instilled in us by our country. . . and our churches.

It’s time for white people in America — especially the white American church — to start putting action behind our prayerful social media memes. The unfortunate reality is that America has a really big race problem, and it is white people must take the leadership to fix it. We, who call ourselves followers of Jesus, should be leading the charge, not arguing about the semantics of whose lives’ matter’.

I call on ALL congregations, but especially white congregations, to unite in protest, to refuse to stand in silence, to speak out against racial injustice, to examine our individual lives and attitudes until we understand our participation in racism, and wipe it from our lives!

We must build a society where we no longer see people of color bloodied and broken. . . or dead, due to racial violence.

We must ensure that our children do not take on the racial attitudes and habits that we were so subtly taught.

Join me in acknowledging, understanding and shedding the mantle of our ‘white privilege’.
 
 
[1]      The Social Construction of Whiteness and Women, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA

[2]      Andrew Rosenthal, “The Real Story of Race and Police Killings“, The New York Times; September 4, 2015

 
Written for the Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 18 July 2016

Even Me, Lord?

John 13:1-17

I want to share with you some prepared thoughts I had which I think are important. But first I want to acknowledge, for all of us, the deep sorrow the Christian and entire world is feeling now due to the fire and desecration of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. For those of you lucky enough to have visited there, you know that it is a structure that is a man-made homage to God, eternity, and the human spirit. It has become an icon of civilization and a tribute to beauty and the sacred that we thought was timeless. As we remove from the altar this evening the linens, flowers and cover the cross, as the lights go out, and the music dies away, we are reminded again that all of the beauty and love in this world comes to us from God, and without God, the world would be a wretched place. It is with the strength of God in our lives that we are able to rebuild, repair, and renew each day, and so shall it be with Notre Dame.

We shall all, no matter the individual faith beliefs, help to rebuild it and restore its beauty to our world.

But today is Maundy Thursday, the least understood, probably least attended, and surely the most intimate of the Christian holy days.

Most people, even non-Christians, have heard of Good Friday and Easter – the last two days of what is called the Paschal Triduum. But most people don’t know much about this important Thursday observance. “Maundy Thursday” comes from “mandatum novum” meaning “new commandment” referring to the 13th chapter in the Gospel of John, which describes Jesus hosting a meal for his disciples (now known as “The Last Supper”) after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It describes how, in the middle of that meal, Jesus got up from the table, wrapped a towel around his waist, and then started washing the feet of his disciples. He ended this loving and servile act by giving the “new mandate” to

“love one another.” (John 13:34)

Maundy Thursday is awkward and often ignored because, frankly, who wants to be reminded that Jesus humbled himself to do the task that servants and slaves did? We want to celebrate him as the risen king and lord of creation. Who wants to be reminded that Jesus lived out the truth that the ‘first must be last’ (Mark 9:35), and even now – as then – he is willing to touch us where we’re most vulnerable and where the dirt in our lives can be seen?

Who wants to be reminded of the tawdriness in our lives at all?

Who does not shrink from being intimately seen and known in our most wounded self by another?

Who wants to break bread and commune with people who truly know us at our deepest and most broken level?

Jesus’ first disciples balked when he washed their feet – “What are you doing? That’s for slaves to do! We can’t let you do this!” Jesus answered,

“Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (John 13:8)

To paraphrase,

“Unless you let me do this, unless you let me humble myself, unless you let me do something that you think is shameful; unless you let me embrace you in your shame, you cannot truly share my life, my mission, and my love”.

And so now, if we don’t let Jesus into our lives where we’re truly most vulnerable, ashamed, and broken, we don’t let Jesus into our lives at all.

The love of God, as we learned from Jesus, is unconditional, . . .

just as we are.

To share in his life, to be fully followers of Jesus, we are called to love ourselves and others in that way too. . .

unconditionally.

Are we willing to accept that Jesus loves us totally, regardless of our failings, no matter what dirt we may be wearing? Can we remember that he suffers when we suffer? Can we fully accept that our pettiness, anger and violence hurt him deeply, as it hurts all humanity? Can we fully comprehend, that no matter what, his love has redeemed us and through his suffering and example, we are assured that with him we have eternal life?

Would you pray with me a prayer by Presbyterian Minister Rev Erin Counihan:

Almighty One,

Before I get lost,
In this night of false belief,
This night of cheap faith,
This night when my real is exposed, Along with my bare feet.
Before I give in.
Before I give up.
Before I walk away.
In silent complicity.

It’s obnoxious, I know,
but would you, please,
feed me.
Fill me.
Hope in me.
Give me strength.
Share your grace.
Share your all.
With me.
(Even tonight.)

Please.

If you’ll help me
I promise to try to trust you enough to believe,
to really believe in your wild and radical love
that it might even be for me
in a very real way,
and to let you hold this sin of mine.
The one I like to carry because I think I deserve its weight,
its punishing load should be forever shaking my arms.

So if you’ll help me
I promise to try to trust and believe you can really be that wonderful
for me too.
AMEN.[1]
 
[1]       Rev Erin Counihan, Oak Hill Presbyterian Church, St. Louis, MO

 
Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 18 April 2019

Waiting Is A ‘Downer’!

This morning I woke up as ‘Downer deni’, disgusted because I felt like I had to wait until I could get anything done! Waiting colored my entire mood a dark grey! As I looked out the window, Columbus was covered in thick grey clouds – not a sun ray was to be found. My wrist, badly sprained in a stupid fall, was painful, partially because I knowingly and willingly didn’t care for it properly yesterday. Instead of icing and keeping it elevated as I am supposed to do, I tried to act like I hadn’t injured it. I am disgusted that I fell in the first place, and now am ‘waiting’ until it gets better so I can continue with my life at full speed.

I find I am also ‘waiting’ for Holy Week to be over. Although one of my favorite times in the liturgical year, Holy Week is an intense and emotional time for clergy. If we have been “doing church” for any period of time, we have to figure out a way to make the events of this week seem special and new to everyone’s soul – including our own. I have preached on Maundy Thursday the last five years – how do I make everyone feel in their hearts the significance of the events that are about to take place? We may not admit it openly, but most of us ‘wait’ for ‘Jammie Monday’ – the day after Easter Day when we can stay in our pajamas and drink coffee and not get off the couch. . . no meetings, no phone call, no commitments!

Most of all, I am ‘waiting’ for the swelling in my hand and wrist to go down so that I can take the restrictive brace off and return to my normal activities. I am angry with myself because I can’t type – I have to spend more time correcting the mistakes than it takes to type them. This Type-A person is not very pleasant to be around!

I look at my calendar for a time when I am not scheduled – aha, I find one! But, like every other day, something pops up which I need to take care of and can’t. So, I will just have to ‘wait’.

Waiting is a ‘downer’, and I am in a really grumpy mood!

But, then I open the balcony door and hear the birds chirping and see the Canada geese swimming on the Scioto River in families. I recall the jazz concert I attended yesterday that took my mind off my injured hand, and I remember how music makes everything better! I think of how peaceful it is when I walk the Scioto Mile early in the morning, and meditate on our beautiful world, and how much God must love us to have created this magnificent orb for us to share.

Then it hits me: I am wasting good time ‘waiting’ for things to happen. The world is never going to be smooth, without little bumps here and there. I cannot fix everything even when the ‘waiting’ is over. All I, and all of us, can do is be the best person we can be in each moment with each choice we make.

We hear in Matthew 6:25-27,

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air: They do not sow or reap or gather into barns— and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

‘Waiting’ until “things get better” does not ensure ANYTHING will be better.

It is time for me to stop ‘waiting’ – roll up my sleeves, take care of my hand, and let my ‘waiting’ turn into action! We do not need to waste our time ‘waiting’ for things to change or improve. Life is meant to be lived in the moment, right now, warts and all! Let’s start living now and we will find those things that we would have missed if we had spent that time ‘waiting’.

‘Waiting’ for something to happen only means we miss out on the joy and miracle of what IS happening! There are gardens to be planted, sunrises and sunsets to be savored, songs to be sung, good times to be shared – to miss all that is the REAL ‘downer’ – let’s don’t waste another minute to ‘love and serve the Lord’!
 
 

Rev deniray mueller, The Crosswords, 15 April 2019

What To Do if You See Islamophobia

Although this was posted last year, it is still relevant today, particularly because of the murder of 49 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand. It is our responsibility as Christians to do what we can to combat the insidious bigotry and racism and fear perpetuated by some against those who are ‘the others‘. We are ALL beloved children of the Creator. ~ Rev deniray mueller
 

The 3 April 2018 has been dubbed ‘Punish a Muslim Day’ by extremists.

The Met has insisted “there is no credible information to suggest there is any criminal activity that will take place”, and a number of organisations including Tell MAMA, as well as people online, are using the hashtag ‘#WeStandTogether to show solidarity with Muslims.

For those who do witness Islamophobia, there’s a number of things you can do.

Marie-Shirine Yener, a 22-year-old Parisian illustrator, created a guide to give people advice on how they can help Muslims who are being harassed.

She based her strategy on “non-complementary behaviour” – a concept in psychology which aims to disrupt an oppressive connection a potential attacker is attempting to establish with the target.

1. Talk to the victim, ignore the attacker.


 

2. Talk about something random.

Continue to engage the Muslim man/woman in conversation, building a safe space as you ignore the attacker.
 

Stay with them until the attacker leaves, and escort them to a neutral area.
 
Indy100 caught up with the artist, who goes by the nom de plume “Maeril”, to ask about her illustration:

As a woman who comes from a diverse Muslim background – Iran, Armenia and Turkish/Kurdish – Shirine Yener’s exposure to Islam came from a variety of sources, including her family and her Parisian neighbourhood.

I have witnessed, during the last months and years, the number of hate-motivated actions against Muslims increase rapidly. I felt like I had to try to do something with what I have, and that is drawing and writing.

 
 
Marie-Shirine Yener, Everyone should read this guide about what to do if you see Islamophobia, Indy100, April 4, 2018
What to do if you see Islamophobia

If We Are But Willing

Luke 13:31-35

We have heard readings the last few weeks known at the ‘Travel or Journey Narratives’; chronicling Jesus’ movement throughout the country, headed to Jerusalem for his crucifixion. He is still in Galilee, and appears to have increasingly caught the attention of the Jewish officials.

In Luke 9:51, Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem where he knew that he would face opposition from religious leaders and eventually death (Luke 9:22). Along the way, he demonstrates the presence of God’s kingdom by casting out demons and healing the sick. Crowds of people from Galilee, Judea, and even Jerusalem followed Jesus along his journey, wanting to see this extraordinary man.

We hear in the Gospel that Jesus refers to Herod as

“that fox”  (Luke 13:32).

This is an allegorical reference to ‘the fox in the hen house’; Herod is the fox, and Jesus compares himself to a mother hen who defends her chicks, even to death.

Unless you lived on a farm or spent summers there, you probably have little or no experience with chickens and hens. Your experience is probably limited to freshly packaged at the grocery store, or cooked and ready to eat from the Colonel at KFC. In Jesus’ time, however, everyone knew chicken’s behavior. For thousands of years, they were raised in the backyard, or even in the house. They watched them every day. They had watched hens react to impending threat. For instance, when a fox first came into view, the hen started to bring her chicks under the shelter of her wings. If the fox got too close, the hen launched an attack against the fox, willing to sacrifice her life for her brood.

Jesus tells us that God’s love for us is like that.

“There have been so many times that I wanted to gather the children of God together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” (Luke 13:34)

Even though he knows that these very children will be the ones who will betray, persecute, and eventually crucify him, he still wants to gather us under his arms like a hen does chicks. That love is eternal!

Have you ever spent any time watching geese and ducks? I get to do that every morning when I take my walk. Canadian geese who make the Scioto Mile their home, have up to ten goslings in the spring. When anyone approaches the river, she will gather her little brood together, and move them further out into the river. If I get closer to get a better look, she goes into attack mode – hissing and moving toward me, and sometimes coming onto the bank to come after me. She wants me to notice her and encourages me to get as far away from her goslings as possible. She draws attention to herself in order to protect her offspring. And if you have ever been attacked by a Canadian goose, you know she means business!

Jesus’ lament is the cry of a mother who is worried to death about not only Jerusalem, but about all of us. Like a mother, Jesus sees far more clearly the danger we are in. Jesus knows we are prone to go off on our own, leaving his protective wings, to seek our own desires and adventure. And like a mother hen, Jesus chases after us.

Jesus’ love is so great that his all-consuming passion is to sweep us up into his protective arms. And although there are others in pursuit of him, primarily Herod and the Pharisees, Jesus stays true to what his love compels him to do. He protects his flock with a single-mindedness.

He must remain in Galilee a little longer, and then, he is headed to Jerusalem, where he will sacrifice himself for all God’s children.

This image of God as a female or one with motherly instincts can be disconcerting for some. Most of us have been raised with a patriarchal view of God; we regularly use the male pronoun in place of God. It is part of what we’ve heard and known since we were young. We think of God as all-powerful, all-mighty, all-knowing. Those images tend to reinforce His maleness image. But here, in this passage of Luke, we have another image – Jesus as a mother hen, with all her love and passion for her children, gathering them under her protective wings. And I ask you, isn’t that image more helpful in assisting us in understanding what God is like?

One of the popular images of Jesus is that he is a man who can do anything – walk on water; turn a couple fish and a few loaves into a feast for thousands; even raise the dead. But in today’s Gospel lesson Jesus states He cannot make us love Him – He cannot control human will.

“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Luke 13:34)

Jesus has tried to gather this flock many times. He’ll walk out of a tomb in a few days, but, apparently, he can’t walk into our hearts without permission. We have to be willing to accept that love and willingly come together under his wing,

I suspect anyone who has loved someone deeply and knows they can’t shelter them from harm’s way understands the pain in Jesus’ lament. His desire cannot overpower our wills. Jesus is powerless to do that. We have to be willing!

We need to remember this about Jesus:

  • He began His ministry by being hungry, yet He is the Bread of Life.
  • Jesus ended His earthly ministry by being thirsty, yet He is the Living Water.
  • Jesus was weary, yet He gives rest.
  • Jesus paid tribute, yet He is the King.
  • Jesus was accused of having a demon, yet He cast out demons.
  • Jesus wept, yet He wipes away our tears.
  • Jesus was sold for thirty pieces of silver, yet He redeemed the world.
  • Jesus was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, yet He is the Good Shepherd.
  • Jesus died, yet by His death He destroyed the power of death.

But He cannot force us to come into God’s love and protection.

The last four words in Luke 13:34 –

“If you are willing”

are some of the most powerful words in the Bible then

… and now!

“I will love you and shelter you like a mother hen protects her chicks … if …

(and only if) …

 we are willing”.

Are we going to make the same mistake as those in Jerusalem and NOT let Jesus gather us under his wing?

Are we going to seek shelter in the loving arms of Jesus?

He is calling!

Will we answer?

Let us pray:

Thank you, Jesus, for always being here for us, even when we shun your love and sacrifice. Please continue to call us to be sheltered by you as one of God’s children. May we love one another as you love us.

Amen.
 
 
Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington & Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH, 17 March 2019

“Do Not Be Afraid”

Luke 1:39-55

This is the fourth Sunday of Advent, and we just heard a gospel reading foretelling the conception of Jesus – just two days before we celebrate His birth.

The timing of this gospel reading often confuses people – why do we hear about Mary being called to be the mother of Jesus just days before she gives birth?

This Gospel is read because we are in Advent – a time of anticipation of the birth of Jesus. We have heard in the Old Testament of the coming of the birth on the first Sunday of Advent, about preparing the way in the first and second Sundays of Advent. And last Sunday we heard about John the Baptist foretelling the coming of Jesus. This Sunday we hear about how this man, Jesus, was to come into the world, born of a young, unmarried Jewish woman – one who was told by the Angel Gabriel:

You will conceive in your womb and bear a son. . . (Luke 1:31)

Gentlemen, you will have to bear with us for a few minutes:

Ladies, close your eyes and think back to when you were twelve or thirteen. I don’t know about you, but knowing about the intimate details of marriage and pregnancy was not in my realm of reality.

According to the Jewish tradition of the time, Mary was between twelve and thirteen when she was betrothed to Joseph. Probably she was living in the house of Joseph, but their marriage was not to take place for another year. Part of the ritual was for the two to live in the same house, getting to know each other, and possibly for Mary to learn the likes and dislikes of her betrothed. . .  from her mother-in-law.

Unlike her cousin, Elisabeth, who had yearned for years for a child, Mary was only betrothed and young enough to be the daughter of Elisabeth. So the appearance of Gabriel was not an answer to a long-spoken prayer. She was not ready to have a baby yet. But, Mary’s time and plans were not God’s time and plans. God was re-aligning lives and upsetting schedules to do His work.

Think about how astonished and, probably, frightened you would have been if an angel visited you with this news. But Mary accepted the reassurance from Gabriel when he said

‘do not be afraid’ (Luke 1:30)

– talk about faith! But not blind faith, because Mary questioned Gabriel about how this was going to happen. She wanted to understand what the Lord had in store for her, how all of this was going to come to be.

Here is a very young girl, facing what could be a very unpleasant time in her life with the rejection of her family, her betrothed and her townspeople, certainly not a candidate for marriage to one who is not the father. And her story about an angel appearing —- come on now!

But the Angel Gabriel said:

‘do not be afraid’. (Luke 1:30)

What could she say to her future husband and his family in light of Jewish teachings and culture of 2000 years ago? And the news from the angel saying her life would never be the same again?

But the Angel Gabriel said:

‘do not be afraid’ (Luke 1:30)

In spite of all those things, Mary’s faith was so strong that she replied:

‘I am the Lord’s Servant’. (Luke 1:38)

As soon as she saw Elisabeth she knew it was true; all of it. Seeing Elisabeth, she was aware of how different they were. Elizabeth’s child would be seen by all as a blessing from God. Elisabeth would be praised, the stigma of her barrenness finally lifted.

To be sure, Elisabeth’s pregnancy was a miracle but it was not unheard of. Mary had grown up hearing stories of women like Elisabeth, Hannah and Sara. Mary knew hers was different.

An unexpected, miraculous birth wasn’t the same thing as a virgin birth. For Mary, as soon as she started to show, it would be different: a young girl, engaged, suddenly pregnant, with no ring on her finger, no father in sight and her fiancé none the wiser. That invited more than just a stigma. She could be stoned to death.

Miraculously, and beyond all physical laws of human existence, God created life
Inside her.
From nothing.

But who is really nothing?

In the same way, she thought, God created the heavens and the earth: from nothing.
In the same way God created the sun and the sea and the stars.
In the same way God created His beloved children.
From nothing.

As though what she carried within her was creation itself.
The start of a new beginning.

To everything.

For everyone.

People throughout history have chosen to follow their own wisdom and paths, rather than listening to God’s truth and God’s wisdom. When faced with the truth of God, we often are reluctant or just plain terrified. But Mary somehow knew that God was with her; she would not be alone, but had the presence of God within her and surrounding her.

So she said, ‘I am. . . your servant’.

Are we, like Mary, after all is said and done, able to say

‘I am the Lord’s Servant’, (Luke 1:38)?

knowing that we may also face things in life that are unexplainable, confusing, hazardous and unpleasant? Do we have the faith to submit ourselves to God’s will?

Why did God choose Mary? Why does God choose us to do different things in our lives? I think it is because we are willing to say ‘yes’ and trust and be faithful servants, even when we are afraid. If you remember, every time God sent an angel down, that person was said to be afraid. The first thing the angel always said is

‘be not afraid’.

God understands our uncertainty, our reluctance, our feeling of unworthiness and assures us of His love and support. And in each case, despite their fears, the people have trusted and said, em>‘Yes Lord’. Because God called them and they trusted God despite their fears – they responded in faith.

Are we willing to be faithful and open to God and his promises?

Are we willing to let the Christ child into our hearts and trust the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us?

Imagine what could happen in our lives and the lives of others if we are willing to step out in faith and say ‘Yes Lord’. If we are to be like Mary, we must be willing to sing out with enthusiasm and say ,‘Yes Lord’.

We are waiting in anticipation for the birth of the Christ child, this fourth Sunday of Advent. The next few days are going to be ones of celebration – but also filled with stress. What a great time to say every morning:

‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord’. (Luke 1:38)

  • When you are traveling, and the kids are bickering with each other, what would it mean to say
  • ‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord’?

  • Very late on Christmas Eve, when ‘some assembly required’ toys are in 200 pieces and the instructions are beyond comprehension, what would it mean to say
  • ‘Here I am, servant of the Lord’?

  • When we are faced with financial problems, mortgages, college for the kids, your own job, what would it mean to say
  • ‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord?’

  • When we find holiday festivities depressing and sad because of family and personal problems or loss, can we still say:
  • ‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord?’

Can we trust the message of Angel Gabriel:

‘do not be afraid.’ (Luke 1:30)

Can we keep saying these words.

“Here I am, servant of the Lord”, (Luke 1:38)

out of faith and comfort, and hopefully, out of habit? Can we say these words as a prayer to grow as faithful disciples, unsure at times what we are supposed to do in this world? God cares about what happens in each moment of our lives. God invites us to live in love, peace and grace and know that we are never alone in this world.

God is inviting us to reach out and minister to others. Most of us will never be asked to do something as wonderful and fearful as Mary. But, in reality, it is the small everyday things in our lives that make all the differences. Most of the problems in the world happen because we do not fulfill our part in our partnership with God and say ‘yes’.

“Here I am, servant of the Lord”, (Luke 1:38)

Like Mary, we are called to be partners with God. Accepting that challenge and privilege is what it means to obey God and walk faithfully with God in love and trust.

What is God inviting you to say ‘yes’ to?

Be not afraid – walk in faith and trust.

We are reminded by angels and prophets and even Jesus at least 365 times in the Bible:

‘do not be afraid’

Speak with faith and trust:

‘I am the Lord’s Servant’. (Luke 1:38)

Let us pray:

Creator of all, when we consider your servant Mary, what we see is a humility and obedience that is so often lacking in our own lives. As we hear your Word again, and consider the one through whose body you entered this world, remind us of the meaning of humility and grant us a confidence of faith that knows your promises to us are always fulfilled. Guide us so that we are able to say:

‘I am the Lord’s Servant’. (Luke 1:38)

Amen.
 
 
Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington & Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 23 December 2018

When Is Enough, Enough?

Mark 10:17-31

Our Father, we thank you for your Word and for the eternal truths that guide us day by day. We thank you most of all for the living Word, Jesus Christ, and the sureness of his presence. Teach us how to turn unto you so that your thoughts may be our thoughts, and your ways our ways. Amen.

We hear in the gospel that a rich young man asked Jesus how he could be assured that he would go to Heaven. He was a very successful young man, having been very fortunate in his business dealings, and was probably a paragon of virtue in the society. In fact, the equivalent scripture in Luke 18:18-23 tells us

“he was a man of great wealth, having an abundance of earthly possessions that exceeds normal experience, and a ruler”

He was a very observant Jew, living according to the commandments of the Torah, remarking to Jesus that

“Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” (Mark 10:20)

So, one has to wonder why he wanted an assurance from Jesus that he would go to Heaven. He seemed to be sitting on top of the world. What did he feel he was missing?

Then came the shocker! Jesus lovingly told him

“You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

Was Jesus really asking him to go from a very wealthy, respectable member of the community to what amounts to a beggar – bereft of all his wealth and stature. Did he have to give up everything – all those possession and ‘good’ things he had worked so hard to accumulate? Well, this was just too much for him; he went away disconsolate and dejected.

You may recall Saint Francis of Assisi did exactly that. Born the first son of a wealthy and privileged textile merchant and landowner, he was destined to inherit the business, the wealth, all the power. As a youth, he was a rowdy drunkard and wanted to become a knight, a man of war. Through several sobering experiences, including a year’s imprisonment after being captured in a war against neighboring Perugia, Francis began to change. He kept hearing the call of God telling him to “rebuild my church”. Finally, in 1203, in a dramatic confrontation with his father in the town square of Assisi, Francis took off all his fine clothing, gave them to his father, and walked away to serve the poor and win people to a new vision of the church. Clothed only in a wool tunic and sandals, he traveled by foot to villages and towns, caring for lepers, and winning followers for Christ. He chose to remain a deacon to better bring the message of God to the people. He had twelve disciple-like followers and by his death he was already considered a saint. His love of nature and animals earned him the title “God’s Fool” by many. He was the first person ever to show signs of ‘the stigmata’, and after his death in 1224, immediately was canonized!

The Franciscan Order developed from his ministry, and his burial site at the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi is one of the most inspiring places I have ever had the privilege to visit.

So, today, should we sell everything that we own and give it to the poor just to assure our place in Heaven? Perhaps we should look at this teaching in light of the culture of today. We have all accumulated things in our lives that make it comfortable for us and our families and friends. We want to assure that those within our circle have every need that they require, so that their lives will be secure and comfortable, and they can achieve those things they want in their lives. But, if we sell everything and give aid the poor, wouldn’t we be abandoning our families and friends, shirking our responsibility as parents and citizens?

So, what does Jesus mean by ‘everything’ in this scripture? We automatically think He means all of our worldly possessions in exchange for our heavenly reward. Should we become like Saint Francis? But let’s look at this in a different manner. Maybe Jesus is really saying that we should rid ourselves of those things that do not bring ‘goodness’ and positive attachments in our lives. We all have habits, behaviors that we know are not good for us; frivolous, unnecessary; let us consider that these are the ‘things’ we should rid ourselves of.

Martha Bolton and Phil Callaway, in their book It’s Always Darkest Before the Fridge Door Opens, tell about strolling through a mall one day laughing at all the things in the mall they didn’t need. They found, for instance, that they could do without:

  • A water fountain for their cat.
  • A cell phone that works underwater.
  • Alarm clocks that project the time on your ceiling in the middle of the night (when you should be sleeping) but can’t be read during the daylight (when you should be getting up).
  • Gas-powered blenders for the backyard.
  • And, perhaps most interesting of all, pants that talk. These talking pants say “Zip me!”[1]

Each of us can probably think of other things less stupid, but also unnecessary:

  • A TV in every room.
  • 3 or 4 automobiles
  • A wide array of PCs, laptops, tablets, cell phones.
  • 10 magazine subscriptions, NetFlix, HBO, Amazon Prime, Showcase and STARZ.
  • A toaster, air fryer, InstaPot, Cuisinart, hand blender and Bullet. (The latter is my personal ‘sin of commission’.)

There are many people who have basically given up all or most of their “riches” and gone to live in simplicity to serve others and follow Jesus. At once comes to mind Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, and Oscar Romero (who will be canonized today by Pope Francis) – and countless people who are not famous, but beloved in their cities and countries. And we admire, applaud, and are grateful for them all. Our earth is a better place because they lived.

But in reality, let’s face it – most of us are not going to do that and I don’t think Jesus really meant for us to do that. I think the story of the Rich Ruler in today’s Gospel is another teaching tool to help us learn what it truly means to follow the way of Jesus. For me, it means to be willing to put the teachings of Jesus first – to put into practice every day, putting the love, compassion and service to everyone – not just friends and family and colleagues – but everyone: all races, all economic levels, strangers, people I do not understand or think I don’t like – EVERYONE!

We must examine our priorities when considering our neighbors or church community, our civic communities and the wider world. There is poverty and injustice and violence that we can do something about. There are children without homes, people living on the streets, mentally ill citizens who have been neglected by society, elders who either have no one who cares for them or are in facilities that abuse them all around us. Hunger and want are rampant, not only in the United States, but places like Yemen where there is no food in the entire country. Climate change has created vast deserts that used to be the bread basket of African countries and many are now surviving on starvation rations or leaves and berries.

These are things that we can do something about by re-evaluating our priorities. There is a distinct difference between what we actually ‘need’ and what we ‘want’. Addressing our ‘needs’ and using our time, treasures and talents from those resources which were our ‘wants’ to contribute to the welfare of others will go a long way toward fulfilling Jesus’ admonition in this scripture.

But let me remind you of something else, the Good News is not about money: Salvation is not determined by what we’ve given up for God, but what God has given up for us. We are not saved by our tithes, but by our ties to the Man from Nazareth. That is good news, isn’t it? It’s called grace, amazing grace. We have not given all we should, but God has given enough for everyone. The disciples were startled when they heard Jesus say that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:25), and they asked,

“Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said (Probably very lovingly, because, once again they just didn’t get it), “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)

In other words, salvation doesn’t depend on what we do, but on what God has done through Jesus Christ. God has accepted us as we are, and loves us as we are – and assures us a place in Heaven!

A young woman named Sharon was waiting to board a bus to New Jersey. She noticed a tall disheveled man trying to get on the same bus. He and the bus driver were arguing, because the man didn’t have the right amount of money. Finally, the man got out of line and stumbled against all the other people. Then he spied Sharon. He asked her, “Would you please give me some money so that I can get on the bus?”

What would you do in that situation? Sharon hesitated and said, “When I get on the bus I will see.” In the next 30 seconds as she walked up the steps to the bus and dropped in her $1.25 fare, she quickly thought through what she should do. She said the sort of things we say to ourselves. “Why should I help him? Why should he get a free ride? There are so many other people who have greater needs.” Sharon had noticed he was carrying some mail with a check on top. “He just needs to go cash that check. It’s probably a welfare check. He’ll just spend it on something ridiculous.”

On the other hand, Sharon reasoned, with a mind of faith: “Don’t you have any compassion? Where is your Christ-likeness? Okay, Lord,” she asked, “what should I do?” And before she knew it, she said to the bus driver, “Wait, don’t close the doors. Leave them open and let him in. I will pay for him.” The bus driver opened the doors, the man ran up the steps, looked at her and smiled and just said, “Thanks.”

God seemed to have spoken to Sharon and this is what God said, “Sharon, do you see? That’s what I did for you. No, that man didn’t deserve your $1.25. He didn’t do anything to earn it, but you gave it to him as a gift. And you did nothing to deserve my love either. I sent my Son for you. My Son died on the cross saying, “open the door, Father, let her in, I will pay for her; today she will be with me in Heaven.” And in that sobering moment Sharon realized again the grace of God in her life.

You and I are rich in many ways. Christ isn’t calling us to give up everything to follow him, only to give sacrificially. What matters most of all is not what we do for God, but what God has done for us. God has given God’s own Son to throw wide the gates of Heaven . .  . for all of us.

So, what can we do with our resources? In this time of stewardship focus at Saint John’s?

What can we do together – here – how can we combine our resources – not only financial, but time, energy and talents – to further the love and service of our Savior?

We have a beautiful and life-saving message for the world – for our friends and neighbors in Worthington and Columbus, for those in need either physically or emotionally. As an old agnostic once commented: “If I believed what you Christians believed, I would be willing to crawl through broken glass to tell the world about it”.

Together we can do so much – as a Beloved Community of people following Jesus, loving one another and serving others because Jesus opened the doors of Heaven to all of us.

Let’s all commit to give the extra dollar, go the extra mile with our time and abilities – to come together in generosity of all of our resources. So that together we can say ‘thank you’ to our God, for this amazing life we are given, say ‘thank you’ to our Savior Jesus Christ for showing us ‘the Way’, ‘the Truth’, ‘the Life’, and say ‘thank you’ by spreading that love individually and together at Saint John’s.

I leave you with some of the words attributed to Saint Francis:

O Divine Master –
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Let us pray:

Dear Lord, we are assured of our place in Heaven by the grace of the death and resurrection of Jesus. But help us remember those who are less fortunate, who suffer, who are neglected by others. You have given us what seems like an impossible task with this Gospel passage. You have asked us to deny ourselves; even when our spirits are willing, the flesh is weak. You know our hearts- help us, with Your Holy Spirit, to examine our hearts and listen to your words. We desire to become more and more like You, less selfish and more selfless, willing to deny ourselves in order to follow Jesus’ teachings. This we pray. Amen.
 
[1]       Martha Bolton, Phil Callaway,  It’s Always Darkest Before the Fridge Door Opens, Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2006, p. 139
 
 

Delivered at Saint John ‘s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 14 October 2018

Let Us Be ‘Jesus People’

Mark 8:27-38

And His Name shall be call-ed, Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace”

The time is drawing near when we will all sing those familiar and beloved words from Handel’s Messiah, describing Jesus as a ‘mighty God’, a royal ‘Prince of Peace’ – underlined with tympany drums and trumpets, exaggerated and joyous rhythms!

We hear in the Gospel that when Jesus asked his disciples who they thought He was, Peter was the first to answer, identifying Jesus as the ‘Messiah’, the Hebrew word referring to the expected ‘Prince of the Chosen’, anointed by God to redeem his people, and foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament. The Jews, who were then under the subjugation of the Romans, looked for a ‘savior’, a ‘Messiah’ to release them from their bondage.

Peter had great hopes for Jesus’ future. If Jesus was the ‘Messiah’, Peter wanted Him to assume the role of God’s Anointed, and become the long-awaited powerful leader of the Jews. Jews believed that

  • the ‘Messiah’ would drive out the oppressive Romans through power and war;
  • the ‘Messiah’ would defeat all the enemies of the Jews;
  • the ‘Messiah would provide justice in the land;
  • and the ‘Messiah would restore the general welfare of the Jewish nation;

– meaning, in reality, the Jewish people would at last rule the earth.

Peter envisioned a great and glorious future for Jesus the ‘Messiah’.

But this wasn’t why Jesus had come. Jesus almost immediately began to teach his followers something completely different about the world, the Kingdom of God, and what His real power was. Rather than coming as a triumphant conqueror, Jesus would face great suffering; many prominent leaders of his own people (the Pharisees and Sadducees, the chief priests and scribes) would reject him. Jesus went on to shock His disciples by saying that he would be killed. Yes. Actually slain. They would see him die.

Jesus told Peter, and the rest of the disciples:

“You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:33)

He reminded them that divine things were not power, domination, wealth, or status, but peace, love, generosity and caring for all of God’s children. Those were stunning, stinging words, but they were words they needed to hear. And they are words that, more than ever, we need to hear. It is human nature to get so caught up in our own desires and wishes, our own agendas for ourselves and our loved ones, that we do not spend much time focusing on divine things, especially the message of God as taught by Jesus. But the truth is that it is only as we seek to know and do the path of God in all things, that we discover happiness in our lives.

Yet, if our main focus is often upon the marvelous dreams and hopes we have for our loved ones and ourselves – what can be wrong with that? An argument can well be made that we should have great hopes and visions for ourselves and our family members and friends. Surely there is nothing wrong and everything right with setting a goal to strive for.

There is only one caveat, one warning we should heed. Our goals and strivings need to be in line with the path God shows us. If they are not, in spite of whatever we might achieve, there will always be a feeling of something missing, something not quite right, in earthly status, power or wealth without inner joy.

It is quite clear that God wants us to choose carefully where we focus our minds and action. When Peter rebuked Jesus, Peter was focusing on his desire that Jesus be the militant and powerful ruler who would set things right in the world. Jesus, however, was intent on following the divine plan, the path to the Kingdom of God wherever that led. Even if the short-term future promised to be frightening and full of pain and suffering; even if a cross was in His future, Jesus taught and lived the path toward God’s Kingdom.

There is a great lesson here. When you and I make the proper choices, when we truly seek the mind of God as we travel down life’s road, we will find that we can handle whatever comes, even death itself.

However, if we decide instead to center on human things — on the temporary rather than the everlasting — we will find ourselves headed toward chaos and disappointment. Sometimes we may discover our life totally out of control and in a desperate condition. Our lives will only be truly fruitful and meaningful as we center on the path to God set out 2,000 years ago by Jesus. As we go from day to day, we would do well to develop a pattern of seeking the mind of God regarding each choice we face.

In his first sermon, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminded us:

“God came among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to show us the Way. He came to show us the Way to life, the Way to love. He came to show us the Way beyond what often can be the nightmares of our own devisings and into the dream of God’s intending.

This is the Jesus Movement, and we are The Episcopal Church, the Episcopal branch of Jesus’ movement in this world.”[1]

Perhaps we would do well to follow something like the guidelines for daily Christian living developed by the Trappist Monks in the Abbey of the Genesee. They remind us:

This is the beginning of a new day. God has given me this day to use as I will. I can waste it or use it for good. What I do today is important because I’m exchanging a day of my life for it. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever, leaving in its place something I have traded for it. I want it to be gain, not loss; good, not evil; success, not failure; in order that I shall not regret the price I paid for it.

You and I are free to live our lives as we please, if we choose. But those who are spiritually wise know that the precious gift of a free will is only truly meaningful and joyous when we surrender completely, day by day, to the One who knows best how our lives are meant to be lived.

Rather than as a powerful ruler, Jesus spent His life as one in service, of humility, of sacrifice. Jesus came to earth to serve, not to be served. His service ultimately cost Him his life. And in so loving and dying – as a humble and loving servant – He showed us the way to find salvation – and joy and meaning in our lives!

“Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29)

That’s the question Jesus asks each one of us. He doesn’t want to know what we would like Him to be, or want Him to be … or even need Him to be. Jesus wants a relationship with us so that we can know “who” He is.

We answer that question each day of our lives with our choices and priorities.

The lyrics of a popular contemporary song, You Raise Me Up, by Brendan Graham and Rolf Lovland communicates what Christ is ready to do for us and through us:

“When I am down and, oh my soul so weary;
When troubles come and my heart burdened be;
Until You come and sit awhile with me.

There is no life, no life without its hunger.
Each restless heart beats so imperfectly,
But when You come and I am filled with wonder,
Sometimes, I think I glimpse eternity.

You raise me up so I can stand on mountains,
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas,
I am strong when I am on Your shoulders,
You raise me up to more than I can be.”[2]

Jesus, through His Holy Spirit, is here for each of us, his suffering, death, and resurrection has assured us eternal life. We are beloved children of God, all brothers and sisters of Jesus. If we live His way, as His people, our communities, nation and planet will be a brighter, happier place – and our lives will be more full and rich than we ever dreamed possible!

Let us go forth into the world each day, being ‘Jesus People’.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
 
 
[1]      Delivered at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, New York City, November 2, 2015
[2]      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLzshoYSulI

 
 

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 19 September 2018