by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
What if Noah had chosen not to act?
What if Noah had heard the voice of God speaking to him, telling him to build the ark, to gather the animals, and he chose to do nothing?
After all, building an ark is hard.
People probably thought he was super weird. Crazy, even.
I can’t even imagine how much work was involved in gathering all of the animals, all of the birds, the crawling things. The goats. Have you ever tried to get a goat to do anything? I have. Her name was Elvira and she existed to do whatever I didn’t want her to do.
What was it like for him to convince his family to go along with this whole thing? I mean, he had to have given up his day job to build the ark. He couldn’t have been bringing home any money. How did the family get by?
What if Noah had just assumed God would actually build the ark for him? Or gather all of the animals for him?
What if Noah, once on the boat, having followed God’s instructions, had decided he didn’t need to care for the animals. What if he just prayed to God to care for the animals, and worked under the assumption that God would, in fact, care for the animals? I mean, he asked for God to do it, right? So it would be done. God would take care of it.
What if Jesus had decided to just stay in the desert praying. What if he had just sat there and prayed for the salvation of the world, prayed for God’s kingdom to come, prayed that people would learn how to love one another, prayed that someone would spread his message? What if he sat there and, with his considerable power, he sent his #thoughtsandprayers to God that the people might know him?
What if Peter and Paul had just prayed that God would guide and support the churches in Asia Minor, Ephesus, Rome… What if they wrote letters that said, “Hey, I know y’all are having a hard time, but my #thoughtsandprayers are with you?”
Where would we be?
What would our story look like?
Would we even be here to have a story at all?
Every time there is a larger mass shooting (if I did it for every mass shooting, defined as 4 or more people, I would do this almost every day), every time our politicians start tweeting our their #thoughtsandprayers, I share these words by Dr. King from his sermon, “The answer to a perplexing question” (which you can find in its entirety here). The perplexing question is how we eradicate evil. Read the whole thing. Hell, read it all for your sermon on Sunday.
Note from Disrupt: we have been taken down by the flu and other life events. Please pardon our lack of timeliness -- and don’t get this flu. It’s awful.
CW: graphic depictions of atrocities of war and genocide.
by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
Focus: Mark 9:1-9
When I was 23, I was fortunate to be given the gift of a lifetime -- I got to spend 10 weeks traveling and learning in Guatemala after I graduated from college. In fact, I got to spend my 23rd birthday in a hot springs in a cloud forest drinking Gallo beer and eating papas. But I digress.
Before my travels, I was very weirded out by images of Christ on the cross. Growing up a protestant in a largely Catholic town, the images of (white) Jesus hanging on the cross were ubiquitous -- except for in my congregation. To quote George Carlin’s Cardinal from the movie Dogma, “It’s just so… depressing.” I wanted nothing to do with Christ crucified. I wanted Christ resurrected. I didn’t understand the point of focusing on God’s suffering when he was resurrected and, after all, wasn’t that what Christianity was about? Resurrection?
Then I spent two weeks with Witness for Peace in Guatemala learning about the long civil war. I heard horrifying stories of torture, of mass murder, of armies trained (by the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, GA, to be exact) to do things like cut babies out of pregnant women and kill them before they killed the mother, march women and children up a hill to slaughter them while they corralled the men in a church and set it ablaze or shot it up. I went to the reclamation project, which was basically a house filled with boxes and boxes of bones and clothes, victims of genocide buried in mass graves waiting to be identified.
I visited a town of people who had been displaced from their land on the Rio Negro. Those left were survivors of genocide. Because the community refused to give up their land for the building of the Chixoy Dam, the military came in and murdered most of the residents. Those who survived were moved to a small patch of land right across the street the military base housing from the very men who killed their families. In order to force the military to see each and every day what they had done, the survivors built monuments. On these monuments were images of the various ways their families were slaughtered and, in the center of one, the three crosses we know so well from the tale of the crucifixion of Christ. This time, there were children hanging from the crosses and a Guatemala Christ crucified in the middle.
Over and over again I saw these images -- every town that I went to had some kind of crucifix with a Guatemalan Jesus in local traje (the beautiful woven patterns many indigenous Guatemalans wear, each pattern signifying where a person is from) crucified.
It was then I understood.
I understood the importance of the suffering Christ. The importance of the crucifixion. The importance of the knowledge that Jesus suffered, as well as the importance of the knowledge that Jesus stands with the suffering.
As a privileged, wealthy, white kid just out of college, I hadn’t experienced much pain at all much less anything close to what these Guatemalans I was meeting has lived through. I wanted shiny happy Jesus. I didn’t want to experience the discomfort that comes along with contemplating the cross. I didn’t want Friday. I just wanted Sunday.
Those of us who live in relative comfort and privilege have the option of leaning into Sunday. We can dabble in Christ crucified on Good Friday. We can think briefly about what it means to pick up our cross and follow Christ when the lectionary asks us to. But we prefer not to. We prefer to check out when the gospel gets difficult, or to make excuses when the words of Christ call us out and ask us to look inside of our hearts and at our lives and stand convicted.
The disciples are right there with us. Right before we hear the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus fed a lot of people, healed some people (both of these were cool with the disciples, and we are fans of this too), and then he told the disciples that he was going to have to suffer and die and then be raised again. Peter is not having it and pulls Jesus aside to rebuke him (seriously, can you imagine the brass on this guy?) and Jesus is not having it. He calls Peter satan and then goes on to tell the disciples that this journey is going to be very hard and he is going to suffer and they are going to be suffer and they need to get on board with that. At least in the gospel of Mark, Jesus is not in it for the glory. He doesn’t refer to himself as the Son of God, rather the Son of Man. He doesn’t want people to know he does these healings. He wants people to hear his message, to understand that God asks for sacrifice, that following God isn’t easy and will involve radical, uncomfortable change to individuals and to our social structures.
And yet, he knows he’s gotta give them (read: Peter) something. Something glorious to hold on to because, well, we prefer glory to sacrifice. So he tells them some of them are going to see some pretty amazing stuff and then takes a few up the mountain (which is where all of the cool stuff happens). There they are given sparkly Jesus along with Moses and Elijah and their response is to try to stay there. Stay with the glory. Stay on the mountain top. Stay away from the problems of the world. Stay away from the work of following Jesus. Bask in the glory.
But no. That is not the job of a follower of Christ. They descend the mountain, not allowed to tell anyone what they had seen until Christ is risen.
Jesus gave a precious few a glance into who Jesus really was/is. He allowed them to see him in all of this shiny, Twilight-themed glory alongside two of the major players in the Hebrew tests AND to hear God’s voice declare Jesus God’s son. I think he knew they needed a little something to keep them going, a little dash of proof. I also think he wanted God to tell them what’s up.
Listen to him.
Listen to him.
Listen to him.
As we enter into Lent, it does us well to both remember that most of us, need to push our people to come off of the mountain. Most of us need to drag our people down and into the muck of life, to remind them that we are called to give up what we have and follow Jesus and that’s not a metaphor. Most of us need to remind our people that the path to Christ goes through death. Most of us need to find ways to talk to our people about God’s presence with those on the margins and our call to be in community with those on the margins (ideally decentering our narratives, needs and very lives so that those on the margins have space in the center).
Some of us are in spaces where people are tired and are losing hope, and we need to balance the call to come down off of the mountain with reminders that the mountain is there, that there is a reason to hope. We might need to give our people a little shiny Jesus amidst the calls to repentance and reminders of death.
And some of us minister to/with/in communities that know the cross all too well. That know that Christ crucified is Christ in solidarity with their suffering and pain. And your communities are why we do this work.
As we enter into Lent, it is our difficult job as pastors/preachers/ministers to call our people into a time of repentance and self reflection that challenges them in ways that they can grow without being broken. And just before we begin, we are given a glimpse of glory as we are called to listen to Jesus and get off the mountain.
You’ve got this.
Let’s get our Lent on.
by Rev. Kwame Pitts
Why are Black and Brown bodies the ones who are demonized,
as if the sickness we are identified with is seeped into our skin,
And the only way we can be “cured” is if we bring ourselves to the feet of the white Plationized, manufactured Jesus to be healed..
….into denial of ourselves?
It’s fascinating to me that although clearly mentioned over on the average of 30 times in Scripture about the demonic, demons and Satan, white Christianity routinely dismisses the idea of the demonic. Many times, in Seminary classrooms I was faced with classmates and ideology that Satan/devil was nothing more than a construct; that demons and demonic activity were either metaphors for mental illness or placed in the category of the abstract. Throughout social media, as pastors, pastoral types have routinely brought up the subject of congregational and community members who have reached out with fear and agony about experiencing negative spirits and activity in their homes…
..and people are still dismissive of colleagues picking up the Psalms, and reminding that it is the Creator who is the beginning and the end, speaks into those empty void spaces lurking in our homes and sacred spaces, of the joy that life does transform in the presence of the Creator.
And that Jesus Christ, speaks to those malevolent, vengeful demons and calls them to cease,
And leave us,
Who are that sacred space within our very being.
Then again, I stand corrected, because there is a part of Christianity that does believe in the demonic and routinely, every Sunday attempts to beat the devil out of the collective body.
Yet, this same Plationized Christianity refuses to exorcise the demonic that it sees right in front of it.
Because inhaling, consuming those demons is the sacrifice of our humanity that the Empire requires of us.
Last night I watched my Twitter and social media feeds blow up with damaging and incendiary language that desecrates and dehumanizes the lives of indigenous folks. Last night the demonic was bold enough and content enough to be public and visible because we as a collective humanity have been cowardly to use our voices, use what the Creator has given us and the Holy Spirit has burned into us to reclaim spaces where we should be able to be authentic,
Places where we once thought were relatively safe and at worst, cordial
..were now full of unclean and impure Spirits:
schools-our youth are being dragged back into the ruins of Jim Crow;
communities-where we are uninvited and unwelcomed, or
neighborhoods-where our sacred bodies are being dumped because we
Churches where the new normal
is the white nationalism
being infused into theology
as the Gospel truth.
And when we rise up,
Express righteous anger
Demand of obliteration of the systemic racism
Then are demonic,
To be exterminated
(a sacred space in the heart of Haiti)
45 had the absolute audacity to mention a place of raw beauty and creation in Haiti as something deplorable. It shows his ignorance because he does not know or want to know their history and the example they are,
Of a fiercely embedded in their spirituality and Faith
And unashamedly connected to the Creator
And of the model of fighting for Freedom
And of dancing at the Altar as so many other peoples of the world have done
Of coming before the Creator, and the Ancestors, and the Holy Spirit and Spirits
The people of Haiti, when faced that their lives and humanity were ignored and abused for Napoleon’s financial gain.
When faced with access to their economic livelihood had been eliminated
..their lands appropriated;
That the ways in which they celebrated and worshiped the Creator God
Would be questioned?
Their spirituality under scrutiny?
Faith practices banned?
The Haitian people went to that sacred place in Creation,
And through ritual,
And ritualized actions
They prayed for liberation
So why are their ways, or any other ways seen as demonic simply because it does not follow the same tradition? They simply brought their pain, their suffering, their sick, their worries to the altar…
Just as the people who see and know Jesus Christ is near, and can heal, and make them whole. They recognize that the only path to freedom and wholeness,
Is to be in community, to gather together, to pray
Not just for healing
But for Transformation
And can you imagine then,
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
God does not faint or grow weary;
Her understanding is unsearchable.
The Creator gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless
When Jesus stands in those sacred spaces,
Will the status quo be bold enough,
Will they release their hold on the empty, tangible things
That the Empire and Plationized White Christianity
Offers up freely to them
Will they drag that which is the demonic-
What is TRULY demonic,
Before the Creator God,
To be exorcised?
Ache’, Amen, Lape Bondye
Please ensure credit is given to the author, Rev. Kwame Pitts, during your sermon if any ideas specific to this commentary are used in a sermon, facebook post, or tweet). Email email@example.com with any further questions or permissions.
by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
This was a hard week for writing. All I wanted to do was find a way to y’all about the DREAMers, but not matter how hard I pushed, everything I wrote to that end came out... not right.
I hope there are nuggets of usefulness in here somewhere. And I hope we learn to welcome the stranger as we were once strangers in a strange land
This is one of those weeks where I am fairly sure that the reading were pulled out of a hat and someone was like, “Let’s see how preachers make these go together!” We have the promise of a prophet, food and stumbling blocks, and a demon recognizing Jesus. What?!
However, the more I dig in, the more connections I see. Whether you preach on one, two, or all of these texts, there is a lot of meat in here we can use today.
To give credit where credit is due, I was inspired by Dr. Ralph Klein’s website out of The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, which can be found here.
“The Lord your God will raise up a prophet like me…” this statement, according to Dr. Klein, should be translated as a continual thing, not a one time deal. God will raise up prophets again and again and again. The eternal God is not just going to try to get us the message once, but again and again and again -- and this is being done because we cannot handle to hear from God God’s self. I have always thought about this as maybe God’s voice is too powerful, but what if it is what God says? Like we can’t handle God’s raw honesty, it’s too much, so we need a mediator.
I have an honesty problem. I am that person who you don’t ask for my opinion unless you actually want my opinion. But it’s not just my words. I have friends who won’t call me when they are having a hard time because I reflect them back at themselves. Through me, they seem to see the ways they are messing up and they can’t handle it.
What if this is why God speaks to us through prophets? What if, like Jack Nicholson’s evergreen quote from A Few Good Men, we can’t handle the truth, at least not as God tells it. What if we need it to be spoken differently to us? What would that say about what God *actually* is saying to us, if the prophets harsh words for the people of Israel (and the prophets who have come to us since that time) are somehow *more* palatable than the words of God?
Whatever reason the people had for telling God they could not bear to hear directly from God, their request was, is, and will be honored. God has given us prophets again and again. From the Hebrew scripture voices of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Isaiah’s wife, Deborah, Miriam through to today’s prophets such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dr. Martin Luther King and Traci Blackmon. God continues to speak through prophets, calling us to true worship, to sacrificial love of neighbor and caring for community through living into the promise God gave us so long ago. Prophecy did not end with the Hebrew prophets, nor did it end with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have prophets in our midst today. Will we listen to their challenge?
Because we are held accountable to the words of the prophets. We are accountable to the words of Isaiah, calling us to throw out our need to look like we are doing the right kinds of worship while we starve the poor and imprison our siblings. We are accountable to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr who called on white moderates to step up and speak out and warned that the church would become an irrelevant social club if it didn’t work for justice (and, um, this is a pretty amazing example of a prophets words coming to pass and God holding us accountable).
But the prophets call us to hard work. They call us to do difficult things and to be willing to be uncomfortable. It is so much easier to listen to the false prophets. Those who tell us everything is fine when it isn’t, those who allow the privileged and powerful to remain comfortable: even going so far as to completely ignore or pervert scripture to their own meds.
Moses warns us of false prophets -- but what do false prophets look like? We know from the reading from Mark that even unclean spirits recognize the Word of God. False prophets will be those who recognize the word of God and use it to their own ends. They will put stumbling blocks in front of God’s people and attempt to lead them astray. We know from the prophets that false prophets will be the ones who say peace when there is no peace and who will promise things that God never can (and never will) deliver.
What do false prophets look like today? These are the people who put stumbling blocks in front of people, which to my mind are those who stand in front of Safeco field with giant signs about who all is damned to hell as they scream from giant megaphones about the coming of God to judge us all. I can only see this as a stumbling block. As I have long said, if you don’t believe in God, you don’t believe in hell and you aren’t going to be afraid of going there. But if you encounter this week after week on your way into a Mariner’s game, you are probably going to start to think Christians are awful and you are not going to want to join our club.
False prophets place a stumbling block in in front of people when they convince them that the right words/acts/prayers/DONATIONS will get them God’s love and that a sign of God’s love is prosperity given in kind to devotion given to God. What of the person who gives their life savings and never sees the result they were looking for? They are both destitute and bereft and left to either believe that they weren’t enough or God doesn’t do what God (in reality the false prophets) have claimed. Abundant life has been stolen from these people. In addition, this system of belief warps our cultural mindset regarding those in need. If our theology tells us that God rewards the deserving, then those who do not have must have done something wrong. They must not believe enough, must not be living in a “right” way. Stumbling blocks all around.
To whom will we call our people to listen? Who will we be? Are we willing to risk our own comfort to listen to the call of the prophets, to challenge our people to be uncomfortable? Or will we float happily along a stream of deception because it yields ease and comfort in this life - only to be held accountable in the next?
by Lenny Duncan
1 Corinthians 7:25-31
Our first reading from Jonah would have us believe that Jonah simply heard the word of the Lord and followed. But we know that’s not true at all. I love Jonah because it reflects my own personal call story more than the call of Samuel from last week. I ran like hell from a call to ministry. I avoided the church like the plague. I thought clergy, while probably being well meaning folks, just didn’t get it. For me God was an alien experience that had plucked me from alcoholism, homelessness, and impending death; an invader in my life which was unsought and interrupted my path ruin, very rudely if you asked me. Even now, almost a decade later, I can’t tell you why associated that experience of my life suddenly changing course without my consent with Jesus Christ, or God. But I knew without a doubt that it was this God I had no experience with that caused this sudden change in heart to happen for me. I certainly wasn’t going to tell anyone. No way would I declare the certainty in my heart that Jesus Christ had saved my life.
For one thing, I may not have been familiar with church doctrine or theology but I knew church history. The church was full of colonialism, oppression, fear, and people whom would never understand what happened to me. I was convinced of this. Perhaps the church was my Nineveh. I had watched in countless jails the church folks who came in to bring services and not one of them understood the way my values, perception, and soul was being warped behind bars. The few times I went to church services it was to get out of my cell and scoff. I watched guys have experiences in those services and for a few weeks walk around with a new Bible tucked under their arms. Everyone is a believer in prison for a little while. There are no atheists in a fox hole. Then a guard would slam them against the wall, or jailhouse politics puts them in a situation where they have to either perpetrate violence or become the victim of violence. I watch as they threw the thin veneer of Christianity to the side, and the guards rushed in to break it up.
All that and yet here I am, writing to you about the RCL.
I tell you all this, dear church, to let you know that there are Jonahs sitting in your pews. People who are fighting a great tide of grace that has swept them up on the shores of your congregation. They are going to fumble through the ELW, or drop a MF’er during fellowship hour. But I can assure you, much like Jonah, they are there to do great things.
I have to believe our brief reading from Mark takes for granted that the reader would know similar contextual clues about the calling of the disciples. That fishing on the Sea of Galilee was run by the elite. The rich and the powerful. That families formed coops to scrape a living out of the lake. The Gospel of John later adds this detail, but Mark forgets to mention that the disciples were already looking for a savior. That the world of first century Palestine was so oppressive and fragile they were ready to throw off the thin veneer of their lives of safety to fight back. In Jesus, they saw what they were looking for. They saw disruption. They saw a chance to change their community and their own fates with Holy Agitation. They recognized it inherently, and immediately. The oppressed often do.
So how do we get our people to recognize their own calls to discipleship this week if they aren’t being squeezed like grapes in a winepress by this society and world? We have to look at the incredible promise Jesus gives his disciples.
And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.
We are long overdue in mainline Protestantism for a healthy ethic of evangelism. We have allowed it to become of a dirty word after we realized in the 21st century the terrible consequences of the churches 20th century exploits in this arena.
We are afraid of evangelism because the white protestant church needs to sit in its town square robed in sackcloth, marked with the words white supremacy and to throw the ashes on its head. To sit and repent for chattel slavery, for crushing its leaders of color, for leaving behind communities of color, for making them throwaway churches. For tokenizing the POC in our midst and treating them as an accessory to be worn to the “Allies Ball” in the hopes of claiming the prize of authenticity.
I don't know what this world would look like -- a world which truly repented for its sins. As a black man I can't imagine a world where I didn't have to fight. To grimace and push through a thousand microaggressions a day to get to my place in the church catholic. What I do know is we are given mere glimpses of it in scripture. We see a Jesus standing at resurrection scars still present yet whole. Eating with his friends whom he died for. Walking with them and opening up the meaning behind all we know of God. I know we see it out of the corner of our eyes when we break bread and share wine. When we hear the words do this in remembrance of me. I know the thin veil between the kingdom and this world is pierced bit by bit when we invite our people into discipleship.
If we invite our people to walk with us the way Jesus does, perhaps grace can slip into the cracks of our broken theology around evangelism. We can do this by going out and being in relationship with the people to whom we want to minister. Not a social ministry bulletin board in the back of the sanctuary: Accompaniment. If we start using our faith rooted community organizing skills and reveal the deep and meaningful impact doing the work of Jesus in our community can have, we invite them into this great legacy of ministry. This week let us highlight something tactile our people can do to go out and be fishers of people. Let’s be the justice we want to see. Give them the context to declare that #blacklivesmatter. A forum where folks can share #mettoo. That happened to me. Hold sacred space for our LGBTQ siblings. Tear down the social ministry bulletin board and use it to share the stories of black trans woman whom are murdered in 2018. Explain that their average lifespan is thirty-five. Thirty-five.
I don’t know what that looks like in your context, but I do know finding meaningful points of engagement you can tie into your sermon reveals the very nature of Jesus, and God to folks.
It’s how I ended up writing you about the RCL all these years later.
This year marks 50 years since Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot while standing on a balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. In those 50 years, whiteness and white supremacy have done their best to domesticate the words of Dr. King. He has been turned from a revolutionary voice who existed in and was supported by a raucous community of revolutionaries who challenged the status quo and spoke of upending the power structures in America as we know them, to a nice guy who wanted us to all like each other. His face has been put on memes decrying protest. People (who clearly have no desire to actually know Dr. King or his work) have said things like, “Dr. King never blocked traffic” (a patently false statement) to proof-texting his words to decry the work of Black Lives Matter (in particular) and others fighting in the streets, in their homes, and in communities for racial and economic justice.
While in jail in Birmingham in 1963, King penned the Letter from a Birmingham Jail, which included a scathing critique of all of the people telling him to calm down, to take it slowly, and to wait -- his critique was particularly aimed at white moderates. And yet here we are, 50 years later, still debating the very existence of white supremacy and the systemic reasons for poverty. We lift up the words of Dr. King when they are convenient, and fail (by and large) to allow them to convict us or our congregations. We are more than happy to talk about his dream of a society in which all of the little children can hold hands and sing, “Free at last, free at last!” but we shrink away when called to do the work to get us to that dream, “preferring an absence of tension to the presence of justice.” For the sake of our jobs, we as preachers too often remain quiet, turning our congregations into, as Dr. King stated, “irrelevant social clubs with no meaning.” Like so much scripture, we lift up the words of Dr. King that are convenient for us, and obscure or hide those that are not. We need a radical remembering of who Dr. King was and what he stood for. We need to remember that while his choice to protest peacefully was not only born out of a conviction that peaceful protest was the best way to accomplish desegregation and work towards the end of white supremacy, it was also the only way their message could be heard *because* of white supremacy. He knew that black people protesting in destructive ways would be seen by the white establishment as proof they were less-than-human, and that behavior would feed into the sub-human narrative white supremacy has created about black people. He knew that in order to be successful, he had to subversively feed into the politics of respectability -- that a well dressed, peaceful black man being beaten on tv would receive more sympathy than one who fought back. He knew the movement *had* to work with this narrative. He knew white moderates would have far more sympathy for someone who was “following the rules” than someone who was not. In many ways it was working within the system as much it was to try to break the system apart.
We try to neuter King’s message so we can lift up a hero we are “supposed” to lift up without making people uncomfortable, and by doing so we completely misunderstand the subversive way King used respectability. He didn’t use it to be gentle. He used it to be heard. Today many use Dr. King’s words to decry violent protest, forgetting that Dr. King deeply understood the riots, calling “a riot a language of the unheard.” He called our our desire to pray for justice and peace while not working for it by telling us we had created for ourselves an impotent God and/or were asking for God to be a cosmic butler. Dr. King did not have time for those asking him to wait. Nor did he have time for those who weren’t willing to pick up their cross and follow Christ. King preached, “Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and yet is not concerned with the economic and social conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is the kind the Marxist describes as “an opiate of the people,” followed by, “... we must admit that capitalism has often left a gulf between superfluous wealth and abject poverty, has created conditions permitting necessities to be taken from the many to give luxuries to the few, and has encouraged small-hearted men to become cold and conscienceless so that, like Dives before Lazarus, they are unmoved by suffering, poverty stricken humanity.” These are not soft words, these are not comfortable words, but they are exactly the words our people need to hear in our current moment.
People of color should not have to play respectability politics. It should not matter what a person is wearing if they are beaten by police or by another human being. It should not matter if they had a criminal record. And it certainly should not matter if they are black. And still, we white moderates play into this trope all the time, judging bodies that lie in the street based on the color of their skin, the hoodie they were wearing, their criminal history, their size and a whole manner of other things. We have decided that some bodies are more deserving of respect, dignity, freedom and, well, life, than other bodies.
In today’s reading from Paul, he is talking about bodies. As Lura pointed out in her commentary for the week, do all bodies matter? If we are reading Paul and professing that our bodies are temples, are not all bodies temples? Should we not see the bodies of Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Brandi Seals, Trayvon Martin and all of the other black and brown bodies that litter the streets as temples as much as we view our own as temples? Do they not deserve the same respect? Are we willing to speak about the destruction of black lives both individually and collectively as a destruction of the temple and a disrespect of God’s creation? Are we willing to not only #saytheirnames but to speak out regarding the reasons we have to say their names? Do we have the strength to shed our comfortable white moderate skin and really speak into this moment in the way Dr. King asked us to 50 years ago? Are we willing to go beyond honoring Dr. King this one day a year and honor him (and, in turn, honor Christ) by doing justice? Are we willing to speak the truth of white supremacy into our congregations? To educate them about the school to prison pipeline, the racism in the criminal justice system, and to endorse Campaign Zero from the pulpit and in our classrooms?
The gospel for the day has Christ saying to the disciples, “Come and see.” This is how he did his ministry. He invited people to see who he was and the only way to truly understand who he was was to come and see. Is this not true of how we all must understand each other? If Christ lives in all of us, is not Christ inviting us to come and see the pain of our neighbor? To visit the Baltimore schools to see children being frozen in their classrooms? To visit people living in prisons, jails and detention centers to hear their stories and see their humanity? To look into the eyes of immigrants to see who they are beyond the rhetoric?
Come and see the black bodies laying in the street. They are temples of God.
Come and see the brown bodies languishing in prison. They are temples of God.
Come and see the black trans folx hiding in the shadows for fear of death. They are temples of God.
Come and see the black and brown children freezing in their classrooms. They are temples of God.
Come and see the dream deferred.
Go out and tell of the dream deferred.
Dismantle the systems that have paused the dream.
Leave behind the ways of the white moderate.
Step up to the plate.
Work to see the dream realized.
by Rev. Lura Groen
1 Cor 6:12-20
What if Paul’s words are true *even for a sex worker*?
Paul messes up gender and sex stuff all the time; I have to accept it to preach on him. If you notice, in this passage, he’s only talking to men. (Whoever warned women not to sleep with temple prostitutes? Nobody.)
When I am preaching on Paul, and he acts a fool like he does here talking about fornication and sex work, I always like to go back to what are the central truths he is communicating, and remind him of them. Paul is not an authority on my body or my sexuality. He is, however, an authority on the grand themes of the relationship between God and humanity. He just isn’t so good at practically applying them to anyone other than men with status.
Your bodies are good and holy, temples of the Holy Spirit. All of them. Men’s bodies, women’s bodies, nonbinary bodies. Cis bodies and trans bodies. Black bodies and Native and Latinx and Asian bodies. Disabled bodies. Trauma surviving bodies. All bodies. Holy and good, both the honored ones and the bodies sinned against by racism, sexism, transphobia, assault, poverty, and all the powers of evil in the world. They all carry the Holy Spirit, they all bear the image of God.
So, when I preach this text (and I never let it be read in church without at least referencing it in my sermons) I remind Paul that he knows all bodies are dwelling places of the Holy Spirit. I would then ask him to listen to Oprah’s Golden Globes speech, and consider the corporate ways we sin against Black bodies, against women’s bodies, against gender non-conforming bodies, against bodies living in poverty. I would ask him to reconsider what he thinks a sin against the temple of God is, and how a woman living in poverty and forced into sex work, or even choosing it willingly, deserves our care and deserves to be honored as bearing the image of God.
I would ask Paul to speak on how we dishonor the temple of the Spirit when we pardon the police killers of unarmed Black men, when we let Black women hang in cells, when we turn from Native women raped on reservations, when we let children in Flint drink leaded water and the citizens of Puerto Rico live without power. I would ask him to speak of how our bodies are joined forever with refugee bodies; bodies from El Salvador and Syria.
And I would ask Paul what he means by fornication. Because, truth is, I do think there is such thing as sinful sex, sex that violates the image of God in a person. If you are having sex with someone in a way that makes you or them feel like less than a beautiful and holy miracle, yeah, you’re doing it wrong. If you view someone as nothing more than an object for your pleasure, yes, you are sinning against them. If you abuse your power over someone, to gratify yourself at their expense, you are sinning against the Holy Spirit within them. If you harass your employees, fail to protect children, turn away form the violence against trans women, you are defiling God’s temple.
But sex that moves you to wonder at the splendor of God’s presence in another, sex that reveals to you the Holy Spirit in your own body, is worship.
And honoring the Divine in the bodies sinned against by our world, fighting for their justice, is seeing God in the flesh.
And, if I had to tie in the Gospel, I would invite the congregation to “Come and see.” Just as the Word can be experienced by going home with Jesus of Nazareth, we meet the Holy Spirit by honoring the bodies of God’s holy people.
Come and see. God’s Presence in our bodies.
by Cara Holmquist
I gotta hand it to Year B; this is a tight epiphany season. Book-ended with proclamations of belovedness (even as New Year resolutions tend to falter).
These “bookends” of the season - the Baptism of Our Lord and the Transfiguration of Our Lord - open our eyes to see not only Christ, but ourselves in light of him. (As Philip invites Nathanael, “come and see.” Come and see One who knows you, who gives you your very self.)
At the baptism of Jesus, in Mark’s telling, it seems that only Jesus sees the Spirit descending, only Jesus hears the voice, “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am pleased.” And then this Spirit, this new and shocking awareness, compels him into the wilderness for 40 days. I’m reminded of scary-honest moments in life, when you realize something important and you know, deep in the flesh, aw shit this is gonna change my life. And it might be a little while before the awareness is fully manifest in your living, but there is always that moment of truth: You are beloved.
This is no soft easy thing. This is not a cosmic participation trophy. Being God’s Beloved, my dears, is a call to YOU, and you alone, to be you, truly, fully, gloriously. Only you can. In all the particular beauties and challenges of your incarnation. And God jumps in with you, all the way under Jordan’s silty ripples.
You are beloved. This is a tough mercy, because half the time we are too hard on ourselves, and the rest of the time, too easy. It’s a good time to dwell with this.
New Year resolutions which appear ambitious and healthy, can risk us doing ourselves violence. Strict diets, manic exercising, meditating, all the get-your-shit-together idealization. We can easily spiritualize this, and you’ll find encouragement in the Christian book stores. Discipleship is a narrow way, after all, so get on with proving yourself worthy. No. You are beloved. Seek nourishment of body, spirit, and relationships, yes, but beware that conditional love for yourself that’s often hiding behind resolutions.
On balance, being God’s beloved can also be spiritualized (or maybe it gets pop-psychologized) into an infantilizing cocoon of so-called “love” that never dignifies you with an actual encounter, a collision of distinct selves. No. You are beloved, and therefore entrusted with becoming fully alive (work it out, fearful trembling and all) and lots of shit to do for the sake of your neighbor and creation.
At the far end of the season: the Transfiguration of Our Lord. An exclamation point of sorts, on the fact of God’s incarnation. God found flesh to be a fine dwelling and meeting-ground, and so along with Christ, every particular flesh (yes, YOU, Beloved) is transfigured, beloved, pleasing. And note how different this is than saying flesh is transcended, left behind or overcome! No, transfiguration is a momentary change that reveals the glory that is already always there. It’s glimpsed in moments of creative flow, of total aliveness. Moments of communion and celebration and holy fear. Things that can only happen to incarnate beloveds, and angels miss out!
Between these bookends, the season’s gospel readings give us calls to discipleship and several exorcisms. Beloved, come and see. Be still, as this tough mercy drives out from you both demons: self-accusation and self-satisfaction. And as the Epiphany season wraps up, go forth with eyes ready to see yourself and your neighbors transfigured, glorious, the dwelling place of God.
I have been struck this season by the conversation about our ability to say Merry Christmas. I literally know no one who has ever been punished for saying Merry Christmas. However, I do know people -- pastors -- who have lost their jobs for proclaiming the message of Christ. The coming of Christ was radical, revolutionary. God, who had always been seen as something far away or at least separate (whether you are coming from the Greco-Roman perspective of their gods or Yhwh), came in HUMAN FORM. God became human. God came to change the playing field. God came to pull down the powerful and lift up the lowly. Christmas is hella subversive, and this reordering of things as they are is so often wrecked by this focus on love and joy and a tiny baby who is love embodied. In the midst of this focus on grace and love (which is important, don't get be wrong!) we forget about revolution. So my question for you, dear preachers, is how can we talk about the revolutionary nature of Christ this Sunday?
This scene from the gospel of Luke has Luke pulling together what was likely two events -- Jesus' circumcision and the presentation at the end of Mary's period of purification. This story shows the incredible ordinariness of Jesus' first months AND the way he was a revelation to the poor. Jesus' family brought the bare minimum sacrifice to the temple -- this makes it clear these were not people of means. They weren't the people showing up at our doors looking for gas money or housing this Christmas, but they also weren't buying their kids a ton of toys. They were trying to get by. A young family of very basic means doing their best to meet the requirements laid on them by the temple.
They were devout. They made sacrifices in the way of money and time to make sure that Jesus was dedicated in the way that all Jewish boys were. They showed up with all they had and gave it to God.
Simeon, a lone old man, no family name, no family with him, is called to show up and declare to the family what he was told of Jesus. Jesus was already dangerous. He was going to bring about the rising and falling of many in Israel. And the only people who have somewhere to fall are the people in power. Simeon's proclamation here is a continuation of the Magnificat, yet another reminder of the radical nature of this child. He is already a threat (a fact we will see borne out in the coming weeks). The people of Israel were looking for someone to lift them up -- but probably not expecting someone who will throw down those in Israel who already had powerful. Then Anna, another woman without power, a widow who had been living in the temple (likely because she had no one to care for her -- I wonder how much her fasting was a choice and how much it was an economic necessity) also recognized Jesus for who he is. Even though they are in the temple, there is no mention of priests, pharisees, or anyone else who might have held power in that place. The people who saw Jesus for who he was/is are the people for whom he came. The poor, the marginalized, the lonely.
The reading from Isaiah says, "For Zion's sake I will not be silent." We are called to not be silent. We are called to preach again and again about Jesus as revelation to and for the poor and marginalized. As we start this new year, how will we speak of Jesus? How will we set the tone to continue to challenge our people as to who Jesus is and how we are called to live in light of this revelation. Will we preach nice things, happy things, about love and peace and joy that leave our people feeling just dandy, leaving worship unchanged, or will we begin this year talking about the revolutionary nature of Christ, calling our people to see this and asking them to dwell in the discomfort of the challenge this brings to our lives?
Christmas is not *just* about a baby, a little boy, or even a man. It is about the revolutionary nature of God come in flesh to take down and lift up. How will we communicate this message?
by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
As a woman and a survivor of sexual harassment and assault, living in the era of #metoo, where almost daily survivors like myself are triggered by new accusations of assault *or* some man's hot take on how women and victims/survivors should feel about sexual harassment or assault, I am reading this in a very, very different way this year. I wonder how many others will read this text differently. How many will hear the story of a young, unmarried woman is just hanging out and some stranger walks up to her and says, "Hey! Don't freak out, but the most powerful being ever really likes you and so you're gonna have his baby!" To which she replies, "Um, no? Not possible. I've never had intercourse." "See, the holy spirit is going to come upon you, and the most high is going to overshadow you and then you'll get pregnant and give birth to, well, God." HOW DO YOU SAY NO TO THAT?!?!?!
There's a wee bit of a power imbalance!
And, honestly, I don't know what to do with this.
Do I just talk about how Luke wasn't *actually* there and so it likely wasn't like this?
Do I just ignore that there is a very real possibility multiple people in my congregation are hearing it this way, some of them survivors of sexual violence? Or that it hits me this way because I am a survivor?
Would I read this the same way if the image of God as a man wasn't so deeply engraved in my mind?
Until this year, I hadn't read it this way. It's been making me deeply uncomfortable. Then I read an excellent blog about it (and I can't remember who wrote it, I tried to Google it, but if anyone knows what I am talking about please LMK so I can give the author credit). In the process of writing this (and trying to find the author I first read), I learned that I am not alone in wondering about this.
Add to that the feeling people struggling with infertility or peri-natal loss get this time of year when we talk about miracle pregnancies that are impossible except by the command of God, and this day (season) kind of sucks for a whole lot of people.
And, I know, I am supposed to think about how *blessed* Mary was. How *obedient* she was. How perfect and pure and undefiled. All of the things that set up purity culture and the Virgin/Whore complex so prevalent in our society.
If I read Luke 1:46b - 55, without 26-38, I would think Mary had prayed to be pregnant, or maybe prayed the people be delivered from oppression and, upon finding out her child would do this, she was able to celebrate. Is the beginning of Mary's story missing? The middle? The end?
If we dig into the legends of Mary's parentage, we find a theory that she was chosen for this role before her birth. Was she raised knowing she would do this? Raised to see this as an honor and a blessing? Raised believing that the messiah would come and he would turn the world upside down and she was going to be a vessel for that?
When we read scripture, we are always going to be missing part of the story. We are going to hear and see the parts that the author (or authors) of the book want us to see. And maybe it didn't occur to Luke to be like, "It's cool y'all, Mary was down from the get-go," because Luke assumes she would be, or because he knows parts of the story we don't.
We are bound to read scripture through our own lens, we are bound to fill in the blanks with our own experience. This is also dangerous. We can do a whole lot of harm when we lay our own experience over the text and use that as interpretation especially when we are unaware we are doing this. We can also do a lot of harm if we totally ignore what is happening in the world these days and the way scripture is landing in the hearts of those listening.
As a Lutheran, the lens through which I read scripture is always Jesus, always grace. It is through Jesus that we know God. And through Jesus we know that God is not coercive, is not violent, does not abuse or harass. Through Jesus we know a God who came (and continues to arrive) to disrupt power structures that oppress and to lift up the lowly -- just as Mary sings in the Magnificat.
Through this lens, the only story that makes sense is the story that Luke left something out. That Mary did indeed pray for this, and this was an answer to her prayers. That Mary was prepared for this and this is something she always knew would happen. That when that angel appeared, her thoughts were not as my thoughts would be (which would be hell no I am a child and I am not having a baby what is wrong with you go away), but her thought was yes. Yes. This is what I want. I want to be a part of the overturning of the world. I want to be a part of a future in which the meek, the poor, the hungry will be blessed and the powerful will have nothing.
And therein lies our hope. Our hope is tied into Mary's hope. That God would break into the world through her. That God would live in her very human body, that God would come out in blood and mucus, screaming and wailing, that she would nourish God with her breast, hold him in his pain and tears, and raise him to defeat death, to defeat hate, to claim victory over that which destroys. That God would one day return to make all things new.
At least, that's what I am clinging to today.