Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Prayer in the Aftermath of Pakistan School Shooting

God of all people, you made all things, you know all things, you are present in all times and places. 
We grieve with your Spirit over the deaths of children and innocent adults in Pakistan. 
We mourn the loss of life due to religious violence throughout the world. 
We long for a day of justice, of peace, of true rest. 


The prophet Amos warns us to be careful when calling for the day of the Lord, for it will not be what we expect. We are careful with our words. We are cautious with our prayers. 


We wholeheartedly ask for comfort for the families of the slain. 
We pray for those who will move the bodies of the slaughtered innocent. 
We ask for Your intervention on those who see this action and who have contemplated acting similarly in the past or in the future. 


We commend to you the souls of the departed for they are children of your creation and chicks to be gathered under your wings. 


Amen.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Beginning of the Good News

Mark 1:1-8
           
            Where’s Mark’s joke? Or poem? Or news story? The author of this gospel doesn’t ease the reader into the text. BOOM, it starts. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ…” We don’t get an angel, shepherds, a dream, or even a longer description of the prophet, John the Baptizer. Instead, we are plucked right into the story.

            We know that Mark is the earliest written gospel that we have. We are talking about a story that existed in a similar written form to what we have in our hands, in our homes, in every hotel room, in our own language- a story marked just under two thousand years ago. Why doesn’t this gospel have the birth narrative or any of the larger details from Matthew or Luke? Why isn’t there a longer, more poetic entry like in John?

            Interestingly, Mark’s gospel originally ended very abruptly as well. What we consider the last chapter of the story had only 8 verses. It reads: When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

            That’s a fairly abrupt conclusion to the story. Of course, something happened beyond that because the story squeaked out somehow. So imagine people noticing early Christians, early followers of the way. These would have been people dedicated to their community, perceiving some equality among different classes, castes, and races, dedicated to healing, sharing, and showing mercy. Their lives were different enough that they gained attention.

            “Why do you do this?” someone might have asked one of the disciples in the temple court. “Tell me about your group,” one woman might have urged another in the marketplace. “Speak to me about this Jesus,” one slave might have whispered to another one the way to the river.

            Most people begin a story with the most exciting part, the part that is the most incredulous. In the case of Jesus, that would be resurrection, right? After all, his teaching about righteousness and justice echoed the prophets in words that were already familiar, if not followed. His healings were miraculous, but there were other healers. Rising from the dead, people seeing angels and not dying, reports that he had appeared, in resurrected form,- this was the big news.

            So, the followers of Christ would likely share this part of the story, but you can imagine people who were skeptical, suspicious, or curious saying, “But who was he? How do you know he was different? Where did this all start?”

            So, they would go back- not to the miraculous birth story, which was a standard starting place, but to the spot where Jesus’ story diverged from the other prophets in history. From Elijah and John, from Moses and Amos, the story begins abruptly with the “beginning of the good news”- the quick entry into what makes Jesus different.

            We do not actually live in a time in which people are fundamentally different from when this gospel was written. People still think of the end of the story first- heaven, resurrection, reunion, future. Yet, the heart of the gospel, its immediacy, is not in what it can offer tomorrow or at the end of time as we know it. The good news of Jesus Christ has a beginning… it has already begun. If it has already begun, then it has a direct impact on the world today.

            The basic reality of what it means to be people of God, people who perceive the good news of Jesus Christ, is that we are carrying that message into the world. What does that mean in the plainest English possible? This a book written for people facing oppression, economic hardship, and religious division. They needed hope in the promise of God’s future actions and help in seeing the present effects of that promise.
People today need to hear, to see, to taste, to touch, to feel, to be welcomed by, to be told, to be whispered to, to read, to sing, to smell, to perceive in all kinds of ways that we who are children of God do not believe we are waiting in vain.

We may not be entirely sure what happens next. That’s okay.

We may not be fully clear on how to explain all the ins and outs of doctrines and church hierarchy. More power to us.

We definitely don’t know what God’s timeline for Christ’s return is. Can’t do anything about that.

We can, however, speak a word of truth in a time of dishonesty. We must point to God’s preference for the poor, the outcast, the rejected, the disheartened, the oppressed, and the neglected. We have to speak to the realities of injustice, racism, classism, constant warfare, and the valuing of things and power over the gifts of creation.

These are not ambiguous ideas. They are not too big to grasp. Each of you, at this very moment, has a scene, a story, a news clip, a bit in your mind that you have turned over and over. A thing that you have wondered if you should do something about. Is it your place to comment? Will someone else do it, if you don’t? If you wait long enough?

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ… It’s not an actual sentence because it has no verb, no action word. The action is in you. The telling of the story, the living out of its implication, the slowly growing faith that the life of Christ is not about tomorrow, but about today. The action, the movement, the cycle of the story- beginning and end- are in you, through the Holy Spirit. 

Frankly, it is an abrupt beginning for us all- starting when we are splashed or soaked by our baptisms and then brought into a family that is supposed to walk with us on the same path. We go out and we come in to this place. We struggle. We wrestle. We wonder. Yet, we are never let go from the task of telling the story, of living its call, of trying to shape the world according to the truth of God revealed in Jesus.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ happens again and again and again. As much as you hear it, you should tell it. As much as you tell it, you should live it. As much as you live it, people will be drawn to it. As people are drawn, the world shifts. This is what it means to be Advent people, to believe that the promised return has present implications. We don’t need the birth narrative. Mark didn’t.

We simply must, and we can, embrace the sudden truth of God among us- the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ- as the start of the story that changes us and changes the world.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent Confession

There is no one who calls on your [God's] name or attempts to take hold of you, for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. (Isaiah 64:7)

Holy God, in times gone by you have created, planted, and nurtured. 
From the beginning of time, You are a restorer- merciful and gracious.
Yet your people have turned from you.
I have turned from you.

I have sought the comfort of my own knowledge, 
The security of my own skill,
The surety of what I can prove.

I have made the tangible my god 
And imprinted with my vanity. 

And You, Dance Partner of my soul, have allowed me to consume the fruits of the labor.

They do not satisfy.

I have sinned against you and with the same mouth I speak Advent hope.

Forgive me, O my Maker.

Recast me, Spirit of wholeness. 

Redeem my life and restore my worth for you kingdom. 

Hear my Advent prayer.

Amen.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Church New Year's Eve Resolutions

Tomorrow will be the first day of a new church year- the first Sunday in Advent.

I usually think of Christ the King Sunday as the "eve", but technically... here I sit on a Saturday night at the true eve of the church year.

Yes, yes, the calendar is arbitrary, etc, etc. Nevertheless, here we are.

In Judaism, the Days of Awe- Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the days in between- mark a new year, a time of atonement, and a sense of focused worship both as a course corrective for one's relationship with the Creator and as preparation for the living of another year.

In Christianity, we often experience the course corrective during Lent. Once upon a time, Advent was a companion season to Lent- a shorter time of reflection, penitence, and metanoia before a festival (Christmas).

The season of waiting has lost some of that flavor, but it doesn't have to. We can still take these few weeks- four Sundays and a handful of weekdays- and reorient ourselves in our relationship with God, with an awareness of the Spirit at work, and in anticipation of the coming of Christ, for we do not know that hour.

Now is a good time to make some spiritual resolutions. Tell a friend or find a partner for accountability in your resolve. Find the work you need to do to keep awake, alert, and prepared for God and God's reign. The time is at hand.

We always find ourselves on that Eve.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Building on a Prayer

Our God in heaven,
Holy parent of all black, brown, olive, tan, and peach children,

Holy is your name.
It is for praise and glory, not to be used lightly.

Your kingdom come,
We dare to ask for the day of justice

Your will be done,
We dare to ask to be used for your purposes

On earth as in heaven,
May it be so, Lord.

Give us this day our daily bread,
And stop our hands from taking more than our share

Forgive us our sins,
For they are legion

As we forgive those who sin against us,
For they are legion

Lead us not into temptation,
For we are prone to anger, to frustration, to laziness, to despair,

But deliver us from evil,
From the forces that oppose you- wherever they exist

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory-
You alone are God. Everything is yours.

Amen.

Amen.





Excerpted from a post (by me) at RevGalBlogPals

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book Review: Mission at Nuremberg

This review was first posted on 11/24/14 at RevGalBlogPals.org.

In the next six months, you will need to buy a present for someone. This person may be easy to buy for or kind of tricky. He or she might be religious, but persnickety about religiously themed books or movies. She might be a World War II buff, but who already seems to have/know everything. He might be a voracious reader of generalized military history, yet shies away from specific biographies. The person you know may have loved Unbroken (Hillenbrand) and wants to read something similar, but despairs of finding such a book.

Good news, friend! I have the book for this person, this situation, your (advanced) church book group, and maybe for you. Mission inNuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis by Tim Townsend is just waiting for you to buy one or two copies, read, and distribute. Frankly, I’m a voracious reader, consuming quickly and without discrimination. I dove into this book
and then I slowed, pacing myself.

Townsend, without directly saying so, tackles the perennial and omnipresent question of theodicy by pointing out that “Why” is the wrong question. There is only futility in persistently beating your head against a marble wall. The question to ask with regard to the presence of good and evil in the world is, “What do I do about it?” In so asking, the wall yields and there is an orchard of tender fruit to be harvested, handled carefully, and prepared so as not to poison, but to nourish.

Henry Gerecke (rhymes with “Cherokee”) is a pastor, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, in St. Louis in the 1920s and 30s. He is a very “successful” parish pastor, but he feels called to specific mission work with the poor and downtrodden of his town. Where there are people struggling with physical, spiritual, and emotional needs- Gerecke sees Jesus and finds his own sense of call there. In the midst of this necessary work, even during the Depression, Gerecke signs up for the Army Chaplain Corps just before his 50th birthday, so that he may be of service during World War 2.

The book flashes back and forth between Gerecke’s specific life and details and then the larger world situation. The world building is necessary because it enables the reading to understand the scope of the trauma, drama, and mixed emotions that occur for a chaplain, and his soldiers, during a war. Gerecke’s original attachment found him serving on hospital grounds in southern England- funneling soldiers and POWs from mainland Europe, through triage at the hospital, and then on to specialty hospitals, back to the front, to prisons, or to convalescence from there. Gerecke is with the wounded, the dying, and the shell-shocked. He throws himself so fully into this ministry that even the most spiritually hardened reader immediately feels thankful to God for the chaplain’s life and call.

Gerecke’s dedication earns him attention he deserves. It also leads to his specific request and call, after the war ends, to serve as a chaplain at Nuremberg. Gerecke will be chaplain to the Protestant Nazis who are to be tried at the first and most famous Nuremberg trial, that of the Major War Criminals. Gerecke will be the pastor to and for such men as Hermann Goering, Wilhelm Keitel, and Albert Speer.

Here is the heft of this book- what does it mean to pastor a person who has committed something atrocious? As the rest of the world had the time to ponder “Who could do these things” as the revelations of Nazi actions came to light, Gerecke had to swallow that question for himself and ask, “How I help these men return to their Creator and Redeemer?” Gerecke’s specific understandings of scripture, the sacraments, and God’s eternal invitation are crucial pieces to how he not only did this work, but in underscoring why he thought it mattered.

This book is deeply emotional. I usually include little excerpts in my reviews of things that stayed with me, yet my notes in this book do not lend themselves to excerpting. Townsend has some deep reflections on what it means to understand evil as an absence of good, but with no power of its own. His discussion of the “mark of Cain”- as either a sign of a murderer or a reminder of God’s protection is riveting. Make no mistake, though, this is not an easy book to read. The chapter entitled “The Book of Numbers” is as difficult to read as its biblical counterpart. If the reader only has passing familiarity with the specifics of the activities in and around the death camps, particularly Mauthausen, this chapter proves a swift, abrupt, and raw education.

Who can forgive? One never gets the sense that Gerecke perceived himself to have the right or the power to forgive the actions of the Nazi war criminals who composed his tiny flock. Townsend’s contemplation of the nature and essence of forgiveness, and to whom it belongs, frankly, is a must read for any adult education class of any denominational stripe.


We live in a state of almost permanent conflict. War may never be explicit and yet the machinery of war- the weapons, the plans, the people- are always in motion, in preparation, and in action. There are those among us who pay a huge cost for that perpetual crisis situation. Mission at Nuremberg, at its very best, causes the reader not to reflect on the atrocities of specific Nazi leaders, but instead to consider what it means to understand each body in the world as a person- a child of God- with a desire to live, to matter, and to love and be loved. 

What are the dynamics of justice- punishment, pardon, and peace- when we keep those thoughts at the front of our mind? After all, we will not know in our lifetime the “why” of good and evil, but we can daily answer “What shall I say” in the face thereof. In Mission at Nuremberg, Chaplain Henry Gerecke is the first among equals as an example for how to respond to that question.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Grief that Remains

I cried today at the thoughts of the Brown family, of what "justice" looks like for some people, of the division between people I like and people I love and people I respect. 

In the brokenness, I have drawn into myself. I spent most of my evening, talking very little. Reflecting. Listening. 

Amos is very clear when he says that the trappings of worship offend God, when they are devoid of a regular life of justice and righteousness. 

I wrote this prayer:

Lord, we have pulled out the Advent wreath, the Christmas tree, the poinsettias. We dusted off the hymns, unsung for a year, and unearthed the words of your prophets. Yet, in your eyes, these efforts are for nothing without the regular, persistent, deep pursuit of justice for all people. Our efforts are hollow without consistent work toward peace, reconciliation, and participation in your mission for creation. In our hearts, we do long to be your people, to carry out your mission, to be lights in the darkness- proof that no darkness can overcome your truth. Awaken us to action. Stir us to courage. Rouse us to prepare a way in the wilderness for your coming, clearing the brush of oppression, racism, injustice, and hopelessness- so that all may see your light and perceive your coming. Amen.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Dear Mrs. Till-Mobley

Dear Mamie Till- Mobley-

First, I apologize for using your first name. You don't know me and it's not right for me to presume.

I cannot stop thinking of you tonight. We have just heard, late at night, that Office Darren Wilson of the Ferguson, MO police will not be charged with any crimes in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Wilson is white. Brown was black.

You wouldn't have been surprised by the rhetoric that has poured forth since Brown's murder on August 9th. We've heard about his misdeeds, his alleged activities, his tendencies, his size, his demeanor, his habits, and all other manner of detail meant to reveal that his life was just another brown life, only significant by what it proved in death- that it didn't count for much to the whites around him.

Mrs. Till-Mobley, tonight, people are arguing that a failure to indict by a grand jury means that there wasn't enough evidence to prove a crime, that the officer didn't do anything wrong, that justice has been met. The reason I am writing to you is because I am wondering, truly wondering, if people told you that justice had occurred with the trial of your son, Emmett's, murderers.

They had lawyers. They had a jury of their peers. They were allowed the presumption of innocence. You know better than anyone that adherence to the letter of the law does not equal justice.

I'm sorry. I'm sorry we didn't learn from Emmett's death. Not only was he murdered, but it seems that he was murdered in vain. We should have looked at his bloated and mutilated body, the body you had the courage to demand we see, and vowed, "Never again."

We looked away.

Worse we pretended we did not see.

The fruits of the spirit of America are not just strange; they are rotten. Freedom comes at the cost of those who fight for it, but where we don't have to see it, hear it, or be affected by it. Privilege comes through the oppression of others- as though modern living is a zero sum game, disregarding the waste of our lifestyles. Power comes through money spent, not through respect earned and trust granted.

We failed Emmett. We failed Michael. We failed you.

All the biblical metaphors I could mention now, which would be familiar to you, feel like dust in my mouth. We know what those words are, from prophets and from Christ himself. They are cross-stitched and framed on our walls, tattooed on our biceps, slapped across our bumpers, and spaced carefully on our church signs. To God, however, they are as grievous as your son's body, as His son's body. They are the blatant markers of our audacity to pronounce God's words, but to fail to live by them.

Mrs. Till-Mobley, Emmett is not forgotten. I want to tell you that he did not die in vain, just as I'd like to say to Mrs. Brown. But I can't say that today.

You are our cloud of witnesses, you and Emmett and others. Your cry goes up, "How long?"

I don't know.

I don't know.

But I won't give up. And that's all I can promise.


Respectfully,

The Reverend Julia Seymour


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Prophets and Kings

Today for Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday, I made a slide show of art of the life and ministry of Moses and the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel writers used wrote in ways to make similarities between Jesus and Moses obvious, because a connection to the prophet of freedom lead people to understand what they might expect from Jesus.

Of course, he turned out to be so much more than they expected. Jesus is more than a prophet and even more than a king.

Here are some rough notes.

Moses
Jesus


Pharaoh orders destruction of all Hebrew baby boys. Moses’s mother saves him by floating him down the river in a basket. (Exodus 1-2)

Herod the Great hears tell of a new king, born in Bethlehem. He orders the slaughter of all the babies in the vicinity. (Matthew 2)
Moses is adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, “taken into Egypt”. (Exodus 2)
Joseph has a dream in which an angel warns him of the slaughter of the innocents. He is instructed to take Mary and Jesus and flee to safety in Egypt. (Matthew 2)

Moses is called to do God’s work, to lead the Hebrew people to freedom from slavery. (Exodus 3)
Jesus appears at the side of the Jordan, an adult, to be baptized by John. A dove appears and the voice of God proclaims Jesus as God’s son. (Matthew 3)

Moses fasts for 40 days and 40 nights on Mt. Sinai. (Exodus 24:15-18)
Jesus fasts for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert. (Matthew 4:1-11)

Moses receives the law on Mt. Sinai and then proclaims it to the people.  (Exodus 34:28-29)

Jesus speaks from a mountain and proclaims how to live the law of love. (Matthew 5)
Moses intercedes for the people. God provides food in the desert. (Exodus 16:13-21)

Jesus provides food for the crowds gathered to hear him speak. (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15)

Moses trains 70 elders to help him with his work at the Lord’s instruction. Eldad and Medad are added to that group. (Numbers 11:16-30)

Jesus sends out the 72 to teach and heal in his name, sharing in the work of proclaiming the kingdom. (Luke 10:1-23)
The Lord tells Moses and Aaron how to get water from a rock for the people. They fail to give the glory to God. (Numbers 20:6-11)

Jesus gets angry about the misuse of the temple. Is actually God, so use of “my house” is appropriate. (Matthew 21:12-17)
Moses offers his life for the Israelites (Exodus 32:32-33)

Jesus is the life, offers his own life for the people. (John 15:13)
Moses asks to enter the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 3:23)


Jesus asks if it possible for the cup of suffering and death to pass from him. (Matthew 26:36-46)

Moses dies on Mt. Nebo/Pisgah, viewing the Promised Land. (Deuteronomy 34)
Jesus dies on Golgotha, the hill of skulls, promising paradise to one with him. (Matthew 27)


Jesus is raised from the dead. (Matthew 28)


Jesus gives the Great Commission. (Matt. 28)