Posts

Showing posts from 2008

Lectionary reflection – 1 Christmas 2008

Image
The images collide in a disturbing way. Santa Claus with a gun? The Christmas Eve killings in Covina, California, are shocking in so many ways. The numbers alone, ten dead and two wounded. A peaceful home invaded, a holiday celebration turned to mayhem. And Santa Claus, that icon of good cheer, and generosity, possessed by vengeance and dealing death.

Yet those are not the only colliding images. On the one hand, the prophet Isaiah foresees his nation’s restoration, where only extravagant poetry will begin to evoke the joy of this hoped-for deliverance. The nation and its people are envisioned as a bride and bridegroom, dressed in their finest, with garlands and jewels, the best possible for the best possible occasion. And the long-sought vindication, for which the people burned, is described as a burning torch.

Perhaps it is more shocking because we know people like these, we recognize the house they live in. The killer was a church usher who had recently lost his job. The dreams of bri…

Christmas greetings

Image
Best wishes and thanks to you for fellowship this year, and in hope for the year to come.

Christmas has a marvelous way of focusing on what is most important. Peace on earth. Good will. Gifts given from God to us, from one to another. And that tiny little baby, a sign of light and life.

May your Christmas be blessed with peace, and Immanuel.
&nbsp

Christmas - God in human flesh

Image
I heard on the radio this morning about comments made by Pope Benedict that gay, lesbian, and transgender identity and sexual behavior are threats to the survival of humanity.

Reuters, Deecember 22, 2008:
Pope Benedict said Monday that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour was just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction. The Church "should also protect man from the destruction of himself. A sort of ecology of man is needed," the pontiff said in a holiday address to the Curia, the Vatican's central administration. International Herald Tribune

The Daily Telegraph:
Pope Benedict XVI has denounced gender theory, warning that it blurs the distinction between male and female and could thus lead to the "self-destruction" of the human race. Daily Telegraph

This comes on the heels of the announcement that Rev. Rick Warren will be giving the invocation at the innauguration of Barack Obama to be the 44th President of the United States of Ame…

Prayer for Mumbai

Image
Lord of heaven and Lord of earth, your heart is grieved at terror and violence. Watch over the city of Mumbai at this hour. Protect, we pray, those lives still at risk. We pray that captives be released, that those seeking to do further violence be restrained, and the lives even of the authors of violence be held safe from harm. Nurture and cherish those many lives affected by these attacks: especially those of the victims and those close to them, witnesses, and responders. And in a city with great wealth, let us remember the poor, that the shalom of the city which we seek be not simply the end of violence, but renewed health and hope for all who shelter there. In Jesus name, we pray for deliverance and for peace, trusting in thy great mercy. Amen.

&nbsp

Thanksgiving wishes

Image
One of my peak spiritual experiences came when I volunteered with United for Peace and Justice to work at a big anti-war march. It was planned before the Iraq invasion but took place just after the armed conflict began. Through the random (or Spirit-led) workings of their fairly-anarchic organization, I got assigned to the security detail. About twenty people stationed on Broadway in the lower 20s with plastic tubs and sacks, and one guy with a bullhorn asking for donations to support the work and the next march.

Surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, there was little need for actual security to guard the money, what I mostly did was thanked people. "Thank you for coming out today!" "You folks are awesome!" shouted a few hundred times, to some subset of the 250,000+ people who filed by.

I can scarcely tell you how good I felt doing that.

At the closing of what is probably his earliest letter in the Bible, St. Paul urges his friends "Be joyful always; pray con…

Change I can believe in

Image
"In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope." -- Barack Obama, Nashua, New Hampshire, January 8, 2008

There are a great many things that can be said today, and people all over this nation and the world are saying them. IT'S BEAUTIFUL!

There's a woman I know who has spent most of her life in Jersey City in Ward F - you know, the part of town that Martin Luther King Drive runs through. Janice has raised kids and grandkids, often without much to go on. She is ecstatic. She, like me, has had a crazy smile on her face all day! She told me how, last night she didn't want to leave the TV even to go to the bathroom, and when she finally ran out and came back, Obama had gone from 100-something to 200-something and she knew she was about to witness something big.

She talked about the people crowded into Grant Park and Times Square, how they were black and white and every color. She stayed up until 3am, crying and laughing and shouti…

It's always been about hope

Image
I've spent the past few weekends in Pennsylvania, along with other volunteers from NJ (and elsewhere). It has been a heartening and moving experience.

I've heard remarkable things. The woman in East Stroudsburg who was laid off in June. Her husband's salary is not enough to make their mortgage payments. I met older people concerned about health care and Social Security and younger people in college concerned about whether they will have jobs and how hard they'll have to work to pay off debts (personal from college loans and national from Bush's deficits). In the Poconos I talked to a "typical redneck" who's convinced we need a change so badly he's ready to try "that guy" - Obama.

There was the working class guy at the Chinese restaurant in Allentown. "I'm a Republican," he said, "but we can't take any more of this." He asked for an Obama button and went out wearing it. I met a pregnant woman whose husband is a M…

Prayer for elections

Heavenly King, your reign is righteousness, justice, peace. Guide this nation as it elects leaders. Help us make wise choices, that our government and its leaders bless the land and bring comfort to the poor. Support those who seek to uphold civil rights and fair elections: all election officials, poll workers and poll watchers, and especially . Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In our congregation we are praying particularly for one of our members and her co-workers at the Brennan Center. Many congregations have people who serve as poll workers and electoral volunteers, and this is a good opportunity to support their work in prayer.
&nbsp

Bailout? Rescue? Necessary evil?

Image
Or simply another way to redistribute wealth upwards?

I don’t know if this piece of “legislation” is necessary to avert doom for the nation’s and world financial markets – but I doubt it.


There is so much wrong with this bill, and with this process, that it’s hard to know where to begin.

1. The last time George Bush & Co. asked for a trillion dollar blank check, and insisted the deal had to be done or the sky would fall... well, that worked out OK, right?

2. It gives the money to precisely the same people and institutions that got us into this mess. Hank Paulson, the architect of the initial bailout proposal, is one of the very characters that first oversaw construction of the house of cards (as Chairman of Goldman Sachs), and then ensured flimsier building practices in deregulating the financial instruments most responsible for the current crisis.

3. What exactly changed between Monday and Friday to switch the votes of 57 Congresspeople? How did a risky, too-expensive, ideologically …

November 4th prediction

Please page to the bottom for my "best guess" electoral map. It's not entirely accurate - I predict a split in Nebraska's electoral votes with McCain and Obama each getting one for sure and the other two undecided.
&nbsp

9/11 plus seven

Image
This year we observe the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. As with all anniversaries, there is an opportunity to reflect upon what this means for us as individuals and in our communities.

In New York City, a number of things are different this year. Construction has begun in earnest on the World Trade Center site. The Pit is growing unrecognizable as such, and this is the last year that public memorial events will take place on the spot where the towers stood. Mayor Bloomburg is seeking to take over control of development, seeking completion of construction by the tenth anniversary of the attack (Bloomberg Urges New York City Take Control of Trade Center Site).

A number of 9/11-related projects are "sunsetting," a genteel term for "no more funding." Some people see this as another example of "get over it already," a thought which has never been absent from public discourse. The needs have not sunsetted, only the money. It is also true that many peop…

Babies, guns, and Jesus

Image
This is my first partisan post. It is so important to get this one right...

Rush Limbaugh and I agree on something. This election is about three things. We are simply focused on three different things.

Rush Limbaugh watched the Republican Convention and declared that this election is now focused on Sarah Palin and is an attempt to renew the culture wars, about "babies, guns, Jesus. Hot damn!" Sarah Palin: Babies, Guns, Jesus - August 28, 2008. Is this really the vision you have for America?


One of these things does not belong with the others...

I suggest that this election is about another three things.

1. Can Democrats fight? ¡Si se puede! Yes we can! I love my country. I have fought for my country and my values. Barack Obama and Joe Biden must hold this ground. Americans respect, trust, love, and will follow someone who will stand up for what they believe in. This election, and our country are worth fighting for - even if we must say some hard things. John McCain is a hero who …

Who do you think you are?

Image
Sermon for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

As I listened to the lessons for today, it seemed to me that identity issues are prominent. Jesus asks his disciples "who do you say that I am?" Have they been paying attention? Are they aware of what’s going on?

The apostle Paul is also concerned with a couple of identity issues: using the different gifts given to each member, and also finding or forging a new identity, as members of the body of Christ.

One reason these "identity issues" stood out for me is that I have been reading a book about the management style of the Jesuits, an organization within the Roman Catholic church. The author, trained as a Jesuit before leaving for a career as an investment banker, makes the case that the thing which has allowed the Jesuits to be a successful 450 year old company, is their focus first of all not on what they do, but on who they are.

Their core strength as an organization originates not in their …

Recognition of martyrdom

Image
You will have heard about the killings at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church this previous Sunday.

The following account is drawn from the Associated Press story. (You may see further information at knoxnews.com.)

According to authorities, the gunman "targeted the congregation out of hatred for its liberal policies, including its acceptance of gays."

The attack Sunday morning lasted only minutes. But the anger behind it may have been building for months, if not years. "It appears that what brought him to this horrible event was his lack of being able to obtain a job, his frustration over that, and his stated hatred for the liberal movement," Police Chief Sterling Owen said.

Amy Broyles was visiting the church to see her daughter in the play. She said [the gunman] "was a man who was hurt in the world and feeling that nothing was going his way," she said. "He turned the gun on people who were mostly likely to treat him lovingly and compass…

A victory against segregation

HISTORIC COMMUNITY ORGANIZING VICTORY
New Jersey Regional Coalition mobilizes diverse interfaith organization
to bring structural social change to New Jersey

(TRENTON) – With the final passage Monday June 23 of legislation to abolish Regional Contribution Agreements (RCAs), New Jersey has witnessed an historic victory for regional equity and the power of community organizing.

On Monday, over 200 people from congregations across the state filled the statehouse rotunda and jammed the hallways to press their senators and await the historic vote to repeal Regional Contribution Agreements. Monday's victory and statehouse rally was the culmination of over three years of tough and sometimes rough and tumble community organizing across the state led by the clergy and grassroots leaders of the New Jersey Regional Coalition.

As an affiliate of the Chicago based Gamaliel Foundation, the New Jersey Regional Coalition works in the tradition of grassroots and faith-based community organizing that p…

Friday prayer

Image
In the name of God, the most merciful: Look with kindness upon our world. Give rest to the weary, food to the hungry, release to those in bondage, and power to the oppressed. Above all, help us to dwell in peace with one another. Support those who seek to bring a just order to communities and nations, especially those working to build a civil rule in Iraq. Bless your people with a renewed vision of your promise and your beauty, that we may rejoice in your gifts to us and have your name ever upon our lips. Amen.

Over the past month, our Hudson County Brotherhood/Sisterhood Group for Interfaith Dialogue and Concerns has had the privilege of meeting two delegations of Iraqi leaders brought to the U.S. by the State Department. Without revealing much detail about the identities of these guests, they have represented much of the geography of Iraq, and a variety of power: tribal, parliamentary, provincial. It has been a blessing to have several hours at a time to meet, converse, and share a m…

Which healing? Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Image
This gospel lesson is difficult for preachers. Which healing do you pay attention to?

Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26

Much has been made in recent years of the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ cloak. The daily loss of her life-blood not only indicated health problems (an infection? fibroid tumors? uterine cancer?) and sapped her strength (anemia?), it made her unclean. It deprived her of touch, of entry to the Temple, of normal social interaction. For twelve years...

Even in her pursuit of healing she tries to be audaciously inconspicuous. The healing she finds in Jesus restores her body, her spirit, and her place in the community.

It is difficult to ignore the story the daughter raised from the dead. The brief descriptions in the gospel lesson are easily filled out by imagination and experience. Children continue to die, by accident, illness, and violence, and the chord this sounds is recognizable, resonating deep in the soul.

The death of a child strikes hard, on the family and also on the comm…

Pentecost – Clothed with power

Image
In Luke 24, just before his ascension into heaven, Jesus told his disciples “I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

A friend asked the question “what is this clothing all about? Is this clothing a tight or a loose fit...and what might be the power?”

I wonder if Luke is in any way picking up this clothing metaphor from Paul and the Pauline tradition?

In 2 Corinthians 5, clothing is a metaphor for a heavenly/eternal dwelling. In Galatians 3:27, disciples are clothed with Christ in baptism (also a prominent part of Pentecost, Acts 2:41). Additionally, the believer puts on armor of light (Romans 13:12), the full armor of God (Ephesians 6), the new self (Eph 4:24, Col 3:10).

Colossians 3 collects a number of these images and concepts in one place, where those who have been raised with Christ are instructed: “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on …

Up in the Air - Sermon for Easter 7

Image
The following sermon was preached in James Chapel, Union Theological Seminary in New York City, at a communion service preceding commencement, May 17, 2002. While many of the references are particular to the setting, the general themes (where to look for God; the awkwardness of losses, in-between times and transitions;it remembering our own stories in light of vocation and mission) are transferrable to other settings.

One explanatory note: the chapel was decorated in part by cords hung at irregular places throughout the space. Graduates and other Union students had been invited to hang from these cords symbols from their time at Union (a backpack, theology books, a stethoscope, baby clothes, a chaplain's vest from the WTC recovery), requiring partipants in the service to take note of them and also negotiate their movements around the objects.

Up in the Air

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied…

Krister Stendahl

Image
I received news last night that Krister Stendahl has died. For many years, Bishop Stendahl was one of the leading lights of the Lutheran church. First known for his influential scholarship on the Apostle Paul, his academic work influenced his ministry. His understanding of a Jewish Paul working in the multicultural Mediterranean fed Stendahl's own passion for religious openness, tolerance, and friendship. As Bishop of Stockholm and Professor at Harvard Divinity School, his leadership role helped many in the church find legitimacy and hope in that kind of vision.

Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord: And let light perpetual shine upon him.

Few leaders of the church in our day - perhaps ever - have combined his depth of scholarship, pastoral discernment, and unfailing kindness and graciousness. While taking strong and controversial positions (on the full inclusion of women and gay people into the church, on the "Jewishness" of the early Christian movement, on the religious open…

Martin King, prophet & martyr

Image
We would like to claim Martin Luther King, Jr. as our own, and believe we stand with him. May it be so.

But King was controversial, opposed, and, at the end of his life, abandoned. As he became more radical, he sought to confront oppressive power in fundamental and far-reaching ways, challenging warmakers and poverty profiteers. His support, his approval, his reputation suffered.

Perhaps it is right that our nation, which justly wishes to celebrate Dr. King and claim him as its own, observes his birthday as a national holiday. But in the church, it is more appropriate to commemorate martyrs on the date of their death.

While we think of martyrs as those who have been killed for their faith, the word means "witness." A martyr is one who gives witness. Martin King gave witness to several things I would like to remember today.

King as disciple

King's oratory was, of course, shaped by his church tradition. But his preaching was in the service of his mission, called by God to procl…

Christ is Risen - Indeed!

Easter greetings to all.

On Good Friday we heard the old, old story - that greed, power-lust, and fear can put hope to death. That story is told far too often, just turn on the TV, read the paper, listen to your colleagues' and neighbors' complaints about all that is wrong. We cannot call that story false, for the evidence is undeniable. Our world is broken.

Yet sometime between Friday's gloom and Sunday's dawn, God spoke a new story. God's loving will to life, to righteousness, to justice is infinitely stronger, infinitely more persistent, infinitely more inevitable than evil.

Like Mary Magdalene (John 20:1-18), this holy power is so radical we might not recognize it at first. Until it calls us by name, and we remember that word first spoken at creation, that whispers in our very bones "It is good." Maybe once again we can ignore the deceiver's lies, and trust that that first word is also the final one, and that we are God's tender, blessed ones. Li…

Lent 6 - I am a broken dish

Image
Sixth Sunday in Lent
March 16, 2008

Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11;
Matthew 26:14—27:66 (Liturgy of the Passion)

There is no story more important to Christians than the Passion. There are no more central Messianic prophecies than the “suffering servant” songs of Isaiah. And there is no better summary of Christ’s role than the Christ-hymn of Philippians.

With so much going on in these great texts, we might easily miss what God is saying as we pray this Psalm, in the midst of these proclamations of Christ.

For the Passion, the suffering servant, the Philippians hymn, all describe one who is an outcast. Insults, bullying, gossip, layoffs, illness, divorce, aging, scandal, rejection. There are so many ways to be out, not in. Everyone I know has been in this position, though it is one we would all rather flee.

Yet this Sunday, this Holy Week, in fact every Sunday and every week, God directs us again and again to attend to the one who is suffering. In the Passion, we lo…

Lent 5 - I Felt the Lord's Power

Image
Fifth Sunday in Lent - March 9, 2008

Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

Perhaps you’ve heard people refer to Lent as a “downer.” Probe a little, and I expect you will often find that this is a reaction against the notion of Lent as a fast or time of deprivation (so seldom observed), against a somber or even dreary quality in some of the music and worship, or against a focus on our sinfulness which may seem extreme.

Yet the story of Lent, as we journey with Jesus to Jerusalem and his Passion, is essentially forward-looking. There is a direction to the story. Even as we remember Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and death, we are hearing the story from the other side.

These stories, though, reach out to where we are. We do not always live in the land of resurrection. These places of dry bones, these decaying bodies, these sealed tombs are real to us. Sometimes our sin brings destruction upon us. Sometimes the sin of others crashes into our lives. And the result is dry bon…