Saturday, August 23, 2014

Be a Boaz

Reading: Ruth 3

Commentary: What’s happening in this passage? Ruth has pledged her support to Naomi, followed her back to Israel, and been responsible for taking care of them. Naomi has the connections in this place, her hometown. If she can find a righteous man to marry Ruth, Naomi will have the grandchildren for whom she has longed and she will know that Ruth will be taken care of as a wife. It will have to be just the right man for Ruth- because he will have to recognize the risks and efforts she has made with Naomi. He will also have to be willing to give Ruth children who will also be understood to be in the line of her dead husband. (Otherwise the grandchildren wouldn’t really be Naomi’s.)

            Boaz is just such a man. He has seen Ruth’s care for Naomi. In the verses we just heard, Boaz acknowledges Ruth’s forethought and risk-taking. As a widow, Ruth could have chosen a different husband, possibly even a younger man. However, she honors Naomi and Naomi’s needs and goes to lie with a man who can provide for them. Boaz has already shown a willingness to do that.

            Boaz is honored by Ruth’s actions and rewards them. He will make every effort to get someone to care for her and Naomi. He is also careful to be sure that Ruth’s reputation is protected. It is certainly arguable that Ruth is a little bit mercenary and Boaz is not turning away a pretty young thing that shows up in his bedroll. Be that as it may, the upshot of this passage is that righteousness and faithful action are rewarded by God and by people.

            Of course, it doesn’t always seem like that’s the case. We certainly know many situations wherein it seems that evil is rewarded, that other people are a means for getting ahead, and that no one is willing to speak out for the widows, orphans, travelers, the unemployed, or the hungry. Isn’t anyone willing to be the Boaz to these people, to stand up, support, lift up, encourage, and redeem for life?

            We understand salvation to have been achieved for all creation through Jesus. There is still on-going work- the spreading of that news, the building of God’s kin-dom, and the reconciliation of creation with the knowledge of God. In our culture, it is all too often that people who are in tight spots are not given the extra boost they need. Boaz does not tell Ruth that things will work out if she just keeps trying. He doesn’t take advantage of her vulnerability and then send her away. He doesn’t push off her request until he had more time.

            As Naomi says, he does not rest until things are made right for Ruth (and for Naomi). We are also called to be “redeeming kinsmen”, to be the one who supports our brothers and sisters. We are to press on for the cause of our family, the family of God, and not to rest until all understand who has spoken for them, who has claimed them, and in whose hands their future rests. God's. 

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Binding and Loosing

Reading: Matthew 16:13-20

Commentary:  What does it mean to say that “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” The gospel writer, Matthew, is putting these words down for a very young Christian tradition, still mostly Jewish followers of Christ with some Gentile participation. The young ekklesia, as Matthew calls the assembly of the faithful, struggles with oppression from outside and wrestles with how to get along together on the inside.
            Learning to live together faithfully in community was and is a large part of walking in the way of Jesus. Those who chose (and who choose) to do so are not embarking on an unmapped journey without assistance or guidance. They have scripture for their map, church community for their support, and the Holy Spirit as their GPS. Embracing all of these tools means seizing onto what heaven, what God, has offered to the church universal.
            By using these tools as individuals and as the Christian community, we will be living out what it means to say, “Jesus is the Messiah, God’s anointed, the son of the only living God.” It is in the living out that religion moves into faith. Correspondingly, faith means that some things are drawn close and others are released.
            Faithful living includes the embrace of community, the love of one’s neighbor, active forgiveness, unbridled generosity. Faithful living also requires the rejection of racism, classism, the using of others as means to an end, the abuse of power, and the worship of anything other than God as God.
            What we embody, what we say, our choices are bound to us through habit, action, and association. This life shows God and those around us what we take seriously and what is important to us. As it aligns with God’s mission and kin-dom, it is bound in heaven and will flourish in mystery and sometimes within our own witnessing.
            What we reject, what we renounce, what we denounce, and what we abandon becomes separated from us. It rusts and fades. It cannot take root. These words, actions, and choices indicate to God and our neighbors that these things have no place in our community or our lives. They have been loosed from association with us and they return to nothingness.
            Thus, we are called to be in daily reflection to what we are binding and loosing in our lives and communities. What are we calling forth? What are we letting go? What have we asked the Spirit to help flourish? What have we renounced to rootlessness and non-existence?
            All of these things together reflect to show the truth of our answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” 

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Friday, August 15, 2014

To My Kindergartner

Twenty-eight years ago, my dad gave me a bath the night before I started kindergarten. I remember two baths from my dad really clearly from hundreds that he likely gave.

The first bath I remember is one in which he tried to scrub off a mole cluster on my left arm thinking was dirt. It’s still there.

The second bath was the pre-kindergarten bath. My dad told me that there might be kids in my class who looked different from me. He might have said more about that, but I don’t remember it. Then he said that there might be other people, other kids, who would say things to be mean about people who looked or seemed different. Not only was I not to join into that meanness, my father warned, but I was to stick up for kids who were singled out or picked on. If my dad heard about me doing otherwise, it would be big trouble for me.

I remember this conversation clearly because part of my personality involves playing and re-playing shoulds and should nots over and over in my head.

My own child is about to become a kindergartner. I went to kindergarten in North Carolina, in the mid-eighties, and my kindergarten teacher was black.

My son is going to kindergarten in Anchorage, Alaska in 2014. He is entering school a long way from Ferguson, Missouri and Sanford, Florida. His preschool class had children from a wide variety of backgrounds. Nevertheless, what should I say to my kindergartner-to-be on the night before school starts? What do I tell him in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting? What do I tell my white son, with two white parents, about his situation, his privileges, his responsibilities?

My darling-

You have been able to drink juice in the store, eat cookies, get balloons, and hold your toys without anyone looking askance at you or me. It’s because we’re white.

We have played on playgrounds in different neighborhoods, run through the woods, tried before paying, and been given the benefit of the doubt. It’s mostly because we’re white.

We have books with people who look like us, movies of people who sound like us, pictures of things that we do, CDs of songs we sing- none of which were hard to find. It’s because we’re white.

In the world, you will get second chances, encouragement, recommendations, and help. Even if you are shut down, something else will come about for you. It’s part of what it means to be white in America.

My darling, it is not that I don’t want these things for you. I do and I will fight for this to be your world.

I’m tell you this because I want these things for your friends too. I want these for black and Samoan and Alaska Native boys and girls who will attend school with you. I want these things for children in Missouri and Florida and Texas and California and across the country.

I want you to all have the freedom to be children, to know that community is there for you, to grow up knowing that you too contribute, are valued, matter, influence decisions for peace, safety, and a future.

In kindergarten, just like in preschool, there will be kids who don’t look like you. You won’t look like them. Their moms and dads think they are special, just like I think you are special. You are all at school to learn.

If another person- a kid or a grown-up- is not kind to a kid, if you see something that isn’t right, is scary, or unkind- you can tell me or Daddy or Nana or Uncle D. We will help you. We will believe you. We care about you and your friends.

The bigger we get, the more we learn about other people and other places. The bigger we get, the more we have to do to work together with other people. The bigger we get, the more we realize that we have run out of people to tell and the work of repairing injustice, unkindness, fear is in our hands.

That’s not your work just yet.

But that’s Mommy’s work. My work.

No, it’s not because I’m white. It’s because I’m human.

Cry, the Beloved Creation

Death stalks your beloved creation.
How long, O Lord?
Brown and black-skinned children are not valued, are afraid.
How long, O Lord?
Mothers and fathers wail in grief over fallen bodies. 
How long, O Lord?
False wars are declared, arming brothers and cousins against one another. 
How long, O Lord?
Lives trickle by, potential yet undreamed, never to be reached. 
How long, O Lord?
How long until we dare to dream something different? 
How long until we say, “Enough”? 
How long until we refuse to feed Death’s insatiable hunger, Fear’s unending drive? 
How long until we stop the machinery that allows the bodies of black Americans to be the grist that feeds money machines?

We pray for a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness and peace are at home. 
The tools, Your tools, for that are in our hands. 
Let us recognize them. Let us employ them. 
Let me join into the chorus, the drumbeat, the dance that answers, “How long?” with “No more!”

Reblogged from

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Do Not Test (Sermon)

Matthew 14:22-33

            What was Peter’s mistake in this passage? There’s a tendency to think that it is he becomes afraid and doubts. People like to say that if Peter had kept his eyes on Jesus, if he had kept the faith, he wouldn’t have sunk. Let’s think for a second about how that sounds to people we know who feel like they’re drowning in their circumstances, “If you keep your eyes on Jesus… if you just believe… don’t worry or be scared…”

            Those phrases make it sound like it is always your fault if you can’t keep your head above water. Sometimes our choices or other people’s choices cause us to falter, to sink, to become afraid. However, just because those things happen does not mean they are God’s will.

            Peter’s mistake happened before he even got out of the boat. In the ancient world up through the time of Christ and even into more recent history, the sea represents chaos. In Judaism and Christianity, the sea is a realm of unknown dark, wherein life disappears. The sea was unpredictable and could be confusing, defying patterns people learned to read. With this in mind, the sea becomes what only God can tame. Only God can bring order out of chaos and triumph over the unknown.

            When Jesus comes walking across the water, the writer of the gospel (Matthew) is creating a scene to help the reader understand that Jesus is God. Furthermore, when the terrified disciples see Jesus, but don’t know it is he; Jesus uses the words that echo the story of the burning bush. God spoke to Moses in Exodus from the burning bush, saying, “I am.” Jesus says exactly the same thing to the disciples, “I am. Do not be afraid.”

            With Jesus walking on top of the water, demonstrating control over chaos, AND using the words that would have been familiar to the disciples from a story they would have known well, it is clearly demonstrated that Jesus is God. God is present in Jesus. Me explaining all this to you is the set up to recognizing Peter’s mistake.

            While he is still in the boat, Peter says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” If it is you… Peter is testing Jesus. Despite seeing and hearing things that Peter knows can only be true if Jesus is God, Peter decides to set up a test. Peter’s mistake is not when he becomes afraid or when he doubts or when he asks for help. His mistake is in testing what he already knows to be true about God. Just before this story in Matthew, Peter has been witness to the feeding of more than five thousand people through Jesus’ blessing and effort. This was certainly not the first miracle Peter witnessed nor was “I am” the first time that Jesus used words that echoed the words of God from Hebrew Scripture.

            But Peter tested him. Peter tested God. Rather than trusting the relationship he had with Jesus or relying on his own experience of God’s mercy, Peter pressed into asking Jesus to prove himself, as though he hadn’t ever done so before.

            What does this look like in our time? Surely we who are Easter people, who have heard of Jesus’ resurrection, his restoration to life from death, wouldn’t test God. Yet, in this day, it is not unusual to hear people who have been diagnosed with cancer to examine their faith. It is not far-fetched to hear abused women or children or isolated men to reflect on what they did wrong. It is not out of the ordinary to hear people assured that if they have maintained a relationship with God in exactly the right way, with precisely the right words, at the correct church, then surely they would not suffer. “If it be your will, O God…”

            We KNOW the will of God. It has been revealed to us through the life, teaching, healing, miracles, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We know that God’s desire is for life, for mercy, for hope, for wholeness, for community, for relationship with every person and all creation. We know that there are forces that oppose God and try to interfere with those plans.

            Yet, the testing of God continues as though God had not shown these things to be true. In the midst of tragedy and chaos, wars and diseases, poverty and struggle, when we wonder why God doesn’t do something, we act as though it is God’s job to prove that God does not want these things to happen.

            Let me tell you definitively here and now, God does not want these things to happen. Jesus is the proof of that. The sustaining of the witness of the disciples by the Holy Spirit through two thousand years is additional confirmation. Our own experiences with God, not what we’ve read, not what we’ve heard, but the truths of our own encounters tell us that God’s plans are for life and that abundantly.

            Oh, Peter. You saw Jesus coming to you over the sea, taming the chaos. You heard the words that you knew belonged to God, “I am.” The taste of bread and fish miraculously multiplied is still in your mouth. And yet you ask for proof. Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

            You know the truth. What more can God say to you than has already been said and done through Jesus for your salvation, your hope, and your faith. The will of God is that you will live, grow, serve, be whole. There is no need to test that, only to live trusting in its truth and power.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Living for Love

1 John 4:7-21; John 15: 9-14

Where did you see love this week? Where did you experience it?

John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this: that he will lay down his life for his friends.

“No one has greater love than the one who is willing to lay down his or her life for a friend.”

What does that mean?

We generally assume that it means a willingness to die for another person or other people. When we interpret it in that manner, it becomes something a little removed from us. However, a life of love is not one of remove. What if Jesus doesn’t mean to “die for” a friend? What if the laying down of your life means to live for. After all, the end of the story of God’s love for creation in Jesus Christ does not end in death… it is about life.

The way love is expressed is in what we are willing to live for… to demonstrate our life’s goals, values, and understanding. God’s love for us was and is demonstrated as God willing to live and die as one of us and then to be resurrected as the firstborn among the dead.

Love, true love, is about the giving of one’s life in daily action, not waiting for a someday possibility.

Therefore, demonstrating love in Christian community, the sacrifice to which we are called, means living for God by living for each other. By thinking about how each of our actions, our words, our financial decisions, our prayers affect the people around us- whom we say we love.

Perfect love… perfected love… goal (telos)…

Perfect or perfected love is not a goal we can attain through our own work or our own faith. It is what God is working out in us. It is what a life of faith is lived toward, but not what a life of faith achieves. What does living a life toward the goal of perfected love look like?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a 20th century German theologian and, possibly, one of the greatest religious thinkers of all time. During the rise of Hitler’s regime and the Third Reich, Bonhoeffer and others started underground seminaries in a movement called the Confessing Church, a Christian movement dedicated to living for Christ and, in particular, opposing the Nazi regime. In 1937, the formal seminaries were closed and government officials declared the Confessing Church illegal. Bonhoeffer still traveled to villages, teaching classes in what he called “seminary on the run.”

In 1939, Bonhoeffer received an invitation to teach at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. A committed pacificist, he was already worried about being drafted into the Nazi Army, so he left for America. However, he wrestled with that decision and, ultimately, realized he could not stay in the United States. He wrote to a friend, “I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people... Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security."

Bonhoeffer left the US in 1940, returning to Germany by steamship. He dedicated his life to the German resistance, especially by communicating its existence to allies in hopes of gaining their support and of securing their help in establishing a democratic post-Hitler Germany. Bonhoeffer was hanged in Flossenburg Concentration Camp on April 9, 1945, after being arrested almost 2 years earlier, accused of being involved in a plot to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer did not return to Germany to lay down his life by dying. He died as a by-product of being willing to live out the love he had for God, for Christian freedom, for a better Germany, for his seminary students and their future.

Laying down one’s life… being willing to live for something other than yourself, for a greater good, for healing and hope in the people around you, and in the world.

Perfect love has been demonstrated for us… in what the Son was willing to forego in order to have a body like ours. The goal of that lived love, stronger than death, was to bring us into a deeper and truer understanding of the expansive nature of God’s grace and its hold on the world.

We are called by Jesus and the writer of 1 John to lay down our lives, all we have, in love. If we live in love, we are not our own. We belong to God. We are in God. We are able to recognize the perfect love, seen through Christ, that casts out fear. Laying down our lives in the love God has poured out for us and which pours through us for others is the only way.

Anything less is, frankly, not living.