Archive | December 2015

From a Helpless, Little Baby to the Savior of the World

Luke 2:10-11

Today is the last Sunday of Advent, the season when we’re supposed to prepare for Christmas and the birth of Jesus. In a few short days, we will celebrate another Christmas. We sing of joy to the world. We give presents to people we love. We smile and wish each other a ‘Merry Christmas’.

If you know about Christmas at all, you know about Mary and the angel Gabriel, about the dangerous journey to Bethlehem, about Caesar’s decree, about Herod’s insane jealousy, about the inn with a “No Vacancy” sign, about the angels and the shepherds, and about the mysterious Wise Men from the east, and the last-second flight into Egypt. All of these stories are so well known that when we hear them again, we don’t really hear them at all because we’ve heard them all before. We hear, but we don’t hear.

The Christmas story tells the most amazing story: that God came down to earth in the form of a tiny, helpless baby.

Let’s hear again the ‘good news’ from the Christmas story:

    “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11)

That little baby was born for all of us!

And we put a lot of stock in that little baby, born in a strange place in a far off country. Yet, this little baby came to change the world. . . came to teach us about the love of God and how we are to treat each other.

What a terrible burden for such a little boy. But this little boy, hunted down by Herod the Great, exiled to Egypt – a refugee in a foreign land – taught us how to live.

From the humble beginnings in a stable, Jesus grew into a man that today 2-3 billion people in the world worship and look to for how to live a good life. From such humble beginnings came a great man – born as a human, as we all are. Died and rose again as the Savior of the world. Jesus lived in the real world, at a real time, with real people dealing with real problems. He did not live in isolation; he walked among the prostitutes, the misfits, the rejected, the tax collectors, and the murderers. He sometimes riled the feathers of the temple and Roman officials, throwing the money changers out of the temples and teaching that the Kingdom of God was greater than any earthly rulers.

But, He started as a helpless, tiny baby born in a stable.

Do you know that there are 365,000 babies born each day in the world? – 365,000 babies a day! And each one of those babies has the potential to grow up into an adult that makes a difference in the world. Probably not with the same impact as Jesus, but each one of us can make this world a better place.
Throughout the Bible are teachings given to us by prophets and disciples and Jesus that are the foundation of how we should live:

    “do to others what you would have them do to you,” (Matthew 7:12)
    “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:36)
    “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39)

Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, we tend to forget the little things, although not religious, that remind us of the true meaning of Christmas:


The more we learn to love… the more we act like God.

  • The love that God showed us when He sent his Son
  • The love people show to each other in little, insignificant ways that reflects that love of God.

God does not want us to live our lives isolated and separated from Him. He understands our limitations, our struggles, our hopes and dreams., God entered our real world as Jesus to draw us nearer to Him! The real question is whether we will let him into our lives.

For those of us who acknowledge that Love is the defining message of Jesus and of God, and for those who believe that God’s love is everywhere for every human being without restriction or condition, then, the task of life, the purpose of life, is to let as much of that Love in – love for self, love for God, love for neighbor and, above all, love for the enemy (Matthew 5:44)

We hear in the Christmas carol, In The Bleak Midwinter: (sung)

    What can I give Him, Poor as I am?
    If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb,
    If I were a wise man I would do my part,
    Yet what I can I give Him, Give my heart.

So, let us remember that tiny baby who came into the world just like the rest of us and asks only one thing:

    To love and serve him.

Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 20 December 2015

Why Giving Back Isn’t Enough

NOTE: as more and more of the 1% recognize their social and ethical responsibility to provide for the less fortunate, philanthropy has increased. However, throwing money at economic and social conditions does little or nothing about the root cause. This article from The New York Times points out the responsibility we all have to each other. (Rev deniray mueller)

open handsDURING this season of giving, I will join millions of Americans in volunteering to feed the homeless, contributing to clothing drives and donating to poverty-fighting charities. Yet I worry that through these acts of kindness, I absolve myself of asking deeper questions about injustice and inequality. We Americans are a remarkably bighearted people, but I believe the purpose of our philanthropy must not only be generosity, but justice.

The origins of formal philanthropy date from at least 1889, when the American industrialist Andrew Carnegie composed his “Gospel of Wealth.” He drafted this intellectual charter at the peak of the Gilded Age, when inequality had reached extreme levels. Carnegie argued, as many still do, that inequality on this scale is an unavoidable condition of the free-market system — and that it was even desirable, if the promise of wealth incentivized hard work. Philanthropy, he believed, would ease the pressure of rising social anxiety that followed from inequality — ameliorating the afflictions of the market without altering the market system itself.

During the 20th century, an entire field of institutional philanthropy emerged and flourished in the pattern of Carnegie’s mold. Iconic American families — Gates, Knight, MacArthur, Mellon, Rockefeller — endowed and expanded foundations that built schools and libraries, developed new vaccines, revolutionized agriculture and advanced human freedom. My own organization, the Ford Foundation, has given billions to support everything from public television in the United States to microlending in Bangladesh.

Our work has been indisputably for the good: Millions of people around the world have access to new tools and resources with which to improve their lives. A few months ago, the World Bank estimated that, for the first time in history, fewer than one in 10 human beings lives in extreme poverty. This is progress.

And yet, for all the advances made in the last century, society’s challenges may have outpaced philanthropy’s resources. Today, the cumulative wealth of the most generous donors seems a pittance compared with the world’s trillions of dollars’ worth of need. Generosity, blooming as it may be from legacies of both Carnegie’s age and the newly enriched, is no longer enough.

The world may need a reimagined charter of philanthropy — a “Gospel of Wealth” for the 21st century — that serves not just American philanthropists, but the vast array of new donors emerging around the world.

This new gospel might begin where the previous one fell short: addressing the underlying causes that perpetuate human suffering. In other words, philanthropy can no longer grapple simply with what is happening in the world, but also with how and why.

Feeding the hungry is among our society’s most fundamental obligations, but we should also question why our neighbors are without nutritious food to eat. Housing the homeless is an imperative, but we should also question why our housing markets are so distorted. As a nation, we need more investment in education, but not without questioning educational disparities based on race, class and geography.

Our self-awareness — our humility — shouldn’t be limited to examining the problems. It should include the structures of solutions, like giving itself. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said not long before his assassination, “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.” It is, after all, an offspring of the free market; it is enabled by returns on capital.

And yet, too often, we have declined to question our own circumstances: a system that produces vast differences in privilege, and then tasks the most privileged with improving the system.

Whatever our intentions, the truth is that we can inadvertently widen inequality in the course of making money, even though we claim to support equality and justice when giving it away. And while our end-of-year giving might support worthy organizations, we must also ask if these financial donations contribute to larger social change.

In other words, “giving back” is necessary, but not sufficient. We should seek to bring about lasting, systemic change, even if that change might adversely affect us. We must bend each act of generosity toward justice.

We, as foundations and individuals, should fund people, their ideas and organizations that are capable of addressing deep-rooted injustice. We should ensure that the voices of those most affected by injustice — women, racial minorities, the poor, religious and ethnic minorities and L.G.B.T. individuals — help decide where and what philanthropy puts money behind, not in simply receiving whatever philanthropy decides to give them.

We can wield data and technology, see through a diversity of viewpoints, and draw upon a century of philanthropy’s success and failure to identify and address the barriers holding people back.

This modern giving charter should look different in different settings. At the Ford Foundation, our efforts will focus on inequality: not just wealth disparities, but injustices in politics, culture and society that compound inequality and limit opportunity. We will ask questions like, are we hearing — and heeding — those who understand the problems best? What can we do to leverage our privilege to disrupt the drivers of inequality?

Others in philanthropy will take different, but no less effective, approaches. Many already are answering King’s call, working intensely toward a world that renders philanthropy unnecessary. Ultimately, we each must do our part to ensure that giving not only makes us feel better, but also makes our society more just.
Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, A version of this op-ed appears in print on December 18, 2015, on page A39 of the New York edition with the headline: Why Giving Back Isn’t Enough.
Why giving back isn’t enough

Do Not Be Afraid

Luke 3:7-18

We just survived the Thanksgiving holiday – cornucopias, fall harvests, turkey and pumpkin pie, corn stalks, and scarecrows — symbols associated with the holiday we celebrated only seventeen days (and 17 pounds on my
hips!) ago. Even before Halloween and Thanksgiving ended, holiday colors had changed. Orange pumpkin lights were replaced by white or multi-colored twinkling lights.

And now we are rapidly moving to Christmas Eve and the birth of the Christ Child. Frosties begin to adorn yards and rooftops. The Grinch Who Stole Christmas’ inflatable green body, topped with a red Santa hat, sits a few feet away from a lighted, plastic Nativity scene. Halloween candies have been removed from the shelves, replaced by candy canes and red and green wrapped Hershey kisses.

We hear “Happy Holidays!”, and Christmas carols assault our ears everywhere we go.

These four weeks of Advent prior to Christmas Eve are supposed to be a time of reflection and anticipation – waiting for the arrival of that small baby who would save the entire world as an adult. We should have ‘dreams of sugar plums in our heads’ and humming Christmas carols as we move through the days until Christmas.

But in recent weeks, unbelievable acts of violence have become normal. From Paris and Syria to Colorado and California, our nightly news centers on the daily terrorism which has raised our fears. Gun violence has led most of us to wonder aloud whether anything can be done, or if the all world had gone nuts. We have had more mass murders (4,052 as of last week) than we have had days in this year. There are political candidates who want to either stop people from entering the country, branding those who are not ‘Christian’ with numbers, or exporting
anyone who does not look and think like them. We hear from some conservative Evangelicals that the end of the world is not far away.

Instead of anticipation of Christmas Eve, we are shocked and immobilized by the extreme violence and cruelty that we are hearing about every day.

Advent is supposed to be a time of hope – hope for a better world. . . for peace, for justice and for loving one another. And we are halfway through the Advent Season; we should be waiting with anticipation for Christmas – the renewal of the hope for the world.

During this upcoming Christmas season, we had expected to enjoy times with families and friends and festivities and joy. But those expectations have been shattered this year. We could throw our hands up in despair; we could lament over a shattered world. We could grieve what we are losing, the dreams that have been shattered.

Or we could pray fervently for courage and hope.

In Luke 3:7-18, John the Baptist warns those he had just baptized that they were going to face adversity – things were not going to be ‘a bed of roses’. So what might John the Baptist say to us today in the wake of the refugee crisis in Syria, the attacks in Paris and Beirut, mass shootings in Colorado and California, and the daily violence that fills our lives?

John the Baptist does offer us a ray of hope. He had some sound advice for the people of that day and for us too. He did not feel the need to be politically correct; he named the sins of racism and sexism and fear of ‘the other’. And he blamed those responsible for these sins.

But he also said:

    “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16)

And with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, God promised us:

    “Never, Never, Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

And Jesus, when he sent the disciples out into the world told them, and us:

    “You can be sure that I will be with you always. I will continue with you until the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20)

So no matter what is going on in the world, no matter how discouraged we may feel, no matter how we are sure the world has forever been changed by the violence and injustice around us, we can be reassured that:

    “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me..” (John 14:1)

We are always in God’s presence and hands, loved as children of God:

    Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

Let us pray:

Compassionate God and Father of us all, we are horrified at violence in so many parts of the world. It seems that none are safe, and some are terrified. Hold back the hands that kill and maim, turn around the hearts that hate. Grant instead your strong Spirit of Peace – the peace that passes our understanding but changes lives. Amen.
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 13 December 2015

Thoughts on Gun Violence (by Joanna, Spacious Faith)

The words below are taken from the sermon I preached last Sunday. There is more to say. There are better things to say. But these are the words I have right now.

The Bible does not specifically address issue of gun control, but there is a lot in scripture that speaks to various aspects of our problem with guns—scripture about how to deal with fear; about how to respond to violence; about how we should live in community.

Obviously fear is part of what fuels our obsession with guns in this country. And it is a never-ending cycle: there are lots of guns out there so people are fearful and go buy more guns. It is a skewed and deadly logic that can only be stopped if we can interrupt the fear. The good news is that as followers of Jesus, we have been called out of fear and into the promise of God’s eternal and abundant life. Scripture is full of passages that tell us not to be afraid.

The Bible also addresses how we are to respond to violence—Jesus in particular addresses this. The story of Jesus’ arrest, while not particularly addressing the issues of guns (which wouldn’t be invented for 13 centuries), is pretty clear about what Jesus thinks of retaliating with weapons. “Put away your sword,” says Jesus.

He refuses to meet violence with violence because he knows that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword;” he recognizes the need to interrupt the cycle of violence, no matter what the cost—and the cost for him was great, indeed.

There is also a lot in scripture about living in community—especially in the letters written by early church leaders to various congregations. Let’s listen again to some of Paul’s words to the church in Rome:

    Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty.

Do not be haughty. Let me replace haughty with a word that gets more use these days: Do not feel entitled. Now the problems of entitlement reach beyond the issue of gun violence, but are certainly part of our gun problem. Did the man in the Biloxi Waffle House believe he was entitled to smoke in a non-smoking restaurant? The NRA certainly believes that Americans are entitled to have as many of whatever kinds of guns they want. The assumed white supremacists who shot four BLM protestors in Minneapolis feel they have more right to freedom of speech and assembly that black people do. Racism is connected to gun violence in horrifying and sinful ways in this country.

If you want to live well in community, do not be haughty. Do not act entitled. None of us has the right to take the life of another. But carrying around a loaded handgun suggests otherwise.

And Paul continues:

    Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves.

The way of the world seems to be to repay evil for evil. The way of video games and TV shows and movies is certainly to repay evil for evil. But if we want to live in healthy, loving communities, we have to be willing to stop the cycle.

Those who seek retaliation and revenge have plenty of role models—from the Terminator (“I’ll be back.”) to Inigo Montoya (“You killed my father, prepare to die.”) But those of us who want to stop the cycle of violence also have role models. As Christians, Jesus is our primary example. Though we don’t have to look that far back in history. I think of the BLM protesters, most of whom are black and have endured lifetimes of discrimination and violence and injustice; who are demonized and gassed and arrested and shot at and still remain peaceful in their protests.

Yes, our country’s obsession with guns is deadly. It is overwhelming. It is sinful.

And yet, this morning, on the first Sunday of Advent, we have lit the candle of hope. We claim hope in the midst of our gun crisis because Advent reminds us that God–who is coming, who has come, in Jesus—is a God of life. It is God who creates, redeems, and sustains life. It is God who calls us through Jesus and empowers us through the Holy Spirit to live into the Divine life even—and especially—in the face of the deadly forces of the world.
Pastor Joanna, Posted on December 3, 2015
Thoughts on Gun Violence