by Rev. Lenny Duncan
Greetings, Disrupt Worship fans:
I was supposed to give a fully fleshed-out synopsis, or perhaps well-rounded piece about the RCL this week. I am unabashedly in the same place as many of you; just not ok.
Like--if you aren’t ok this week, that’s ok. If the world seems like it just got colder, you didn’t make that up--it did. If it seems like, at the very least, the ideals of the republic died last week, that’s because they did. In a very tangible way, what it meant to be an American from 1964 to now--the only viable period of true American democracy--well, that’s over.
So, what the fuck do you preach on a week like this?
Beloved, I have no idea, but I know the RCL ain’t doing us any favors this week.
1 Samuel 3:1-10, 11-20
This is the text I am preaching on. Contextually speaking, this week the rest are a straight hot mess--emphasis on straight. But we will get to that later.
I’m preaching 1st Samuel; the classic ordination text, because I believe our people are being ordained into a new period of American Christianity. We find ourselves in the unfavorable position of Eli, a people who have completely failed in our priestly duties to defend the people from leaders such as we are seeing now, and from broken sin patterns like the one playing out from Lake Street to the halls of the Senate. Like Eli, when we are watching a nation crumble around us and we haven’t heard the voice of God in a while, we have to wonder what it sounds like. We need a prophet much like the nation of Israel did--or more accurately, prophets. I am preaching this text because I can relate to the heart-sickness of Eli this time around; the bereavement of being cast out of the presence of God. I can relate to that now in 2021 in a way I couldn’t in 2019. Much like Eli, I now place my hope in the generation of Prophets rising up behind me, and with them I share what little I know of this thing I call God. I hope it's enough to help them on their own perilous journey with the creator and liberation.
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
You going to preach the psalm? Really?
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
In my opinion, you have two choices here. You can be a monster and reinforce heteronormative BS attributed to Paul’s ministry on like literally the worst week to crush Queer, Trans, or Two-Spirited folks who happen along your livestream, or you can have the moral and spiritual fortitude to flip this text on its head. You are a hero if you know all the ways to do this; explain there are several Pauls as writers, or that he gave different directions to different churches solely based on context, or all the other ways you can explain the sexual world of Paul to remind straight people they don't know what they are talking about. My advice? Leave it alone this week.
I mean, it’s another call story, but personally, I avoid John like the plague. Until the Christian church deals with the aggregate effect of this book on our Jewish siblings and its gross use by other pastors, I just refuse to preach John if I can get away with it. That’s hard as a RCL preacher; I get it. I have had John scholars DM me after saying this before. I’m into the effects on the ground on real people, not being theologically comforted. I’m just saying--if you ask me, it’s not the week to preach from the anti-Semite book, but it is another call story, and Jesus is in it. It’s a slam dunk if preached the same way I am preaching Samuel.
Anyway, the republic almost fell last week, so that’s all you get out of me.
You are doing so much better than you are giving yourself credit for.
Be gentle on yourselves and one another, Beloved.
Written in Liberation and Love
the Rev. Lenny Duncan +
by Rev. Remy Remmers
This week’s first lesson, Jeremiah 31-4-14, is one of my favorite passages. It is a salvation oracle in the midst of the trauma of exile. The people of Israel have experienced traumatic event after traumatic event. They are living in trauma trying to process what has happened to them, the role of God, and if salvation is possible. Jeremiah is the longest book in the bible and covers many different traumatic events that happened to the people of Israel. In the Book of Consolation (Jeremiah 30-31), this lectionary reading shows the impact of their trauma while trying to hope together as a community. Just a quick note before we begin: if you look in other translations for verse 8 you will see a different word than what the CEB has for disabled; that word is considered a slur by many. You should substitute in the word disabled. Also, you should look at the hymns for the slur; it is frequently used because it rhymes with name. Remember, it is always a good time to talk about disabilities and ableism in your context.
To give some brief historical context: at this time, the northern kingdom has been conquered. The land of Israel had also been conquered with the capital city Jerusalem overthrown and raided. Officials had been captured; some executed publicly and others taken into exile to unknown futures. The people of Israel individually and communally would be living with trauma. They experienced back-to-back reversals of fortune that left them eventually in exile. This would impact any oracles composed during this time. Trauma changes how people and communities think and express themselves. The Book of Consolation is this break in the book of Jeremiah that Jeremiah brings in a word of hope from God. “The oracles that follow will develop that intention in some detail, with eloquence, hope, and sensitivity to the pain that the people have experienced.” The people cannot experience hope unless they feel like their pain is being honored. Even when their pain is being honored, hope is difficult. The book of Consolation works within this narrative, piecing together the community with their part in God’s salvation. This hope must exist within the frame of the grief of the past. “Before hope can speak, survivors of disaster have to find language to tell of it; they have to grieve accumulations of loss and begin to place the catastrophe into larger frames of meaning.” The Book of Consolation is an attempt to find this language. It is centered in the language of their traditions and in their grief.
One of the ways that Jeremiah does that is through his word choice. In verse 7 the verb ‘shouts’ also appears in Lamentations as cries of need. This choice in word deeply acknowledges the emotional space that the people in exile inhabit. This is juxtaposed with gladness. These two are held deeply in tension which is what allows this phrase to work. Telling the people of Israel that their emotional space is valued and welcome at the start of this oracle is a move that works well. Gladness will come, but Jeremiah honors the cries of need that he hears. This makes this oracle more manageable and meaningful for the people of Israel.
Further, Jeremiah meets the people in trauma by acknowledging the reality of their condition. They cannot go back to who they were before, so God will bring them back as who they are now. “The survivors returning to Zion will form a procession of the forgotten, the disabled and the vulnerable.” During the times of raids and exile some undoubtedly have become disabled. Often as a demonstration of strength and dominance over a conquered nation people (especially high ranking) will be publicly deformed or blinded. While these words could be metaphoric, historically there are more people that are blind or have physical impairments as a result of being conquered. This metaphor could have come from the reality that people were more aware of their conquered status because of these physical signs. They return as a great company and not as an army.
This return to Zion is phrased like a procession. They will be gathered from their various points of exile and be led back into Zion. This Oracle ties together their trauma and a sense of liturgy. “Flowing from their worshiping life will come a new society of economic and spiritual justice… Those usually judged least suitable for leadership – the feeble and the vulnerable, the lowly and the wounded – will become the center of new life.” By guiding them in their trauma back to Zion, God declares who is valued in this new community, and who they should be depending on. This procession reminds the community how to live into the covenant by reminding them who needs protection in their community. God gives them positions of leadership in this renewal of the kingdom of God.
This Oracle of Salvation is in the midst of trauma in how it was composed, and how the people of Israel received it. The oracle met them at the emotional space that they were at because of their trauma. Metaphors that held up the need for the dependence of God were lifted up because none of them felt like their current situation was manageable. They were not brought back as a military but in a processional led and cared for by God. In this procession new life and new hope can begin. As we dream of returning to churches, what will we have learned from this pandemic? Everything should not and can not ‘go back to normal.’ There is so much grief and loss throughout the country. How are you acknowledging that in your space? Does the way you hold hope for the future leave room for grief?
 The New Interpreter's Bible: General Articles & Introduction, Commentary, & Reflections for Each Book of the Bible, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994.,805
 O'Connor, Kathleen M. Jeremiah: Pain and Promise. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011., 103
 Keown, Gerald Lynwood., Pamela J. Scalise, and Thomas G. Smothers. Jeremiah 26-52. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1995.
 O'Connor, Kathleen M. Jeremiah: Pain and Promise. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011., 106
 See Jeremiah 52:11 for an example
 O'Connor, Kathleen M. Jeremiah: Pain and Promise. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011., 105
By Regina Heater
Ah, the first Sunday after Christmas. This is what a pastor-mentor always called a “low Sunday:” low energy, low attendance, and low prep. There’s a reason many churches designate this a “carol sing” Sunday, after all. Conveniently, the texts for this Sunday offer easy justification for this practice - both Isaiah and the Psalm are about rejoicing, and easily “create space” for a meditation where one extols how singing carols is in the spirit of the texts as we continue celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas.
There’s also plenty of space for rejoicing and even rest in the Gospel text. After all, both Simeon and Anna had actively and watchfully waited a very long time for the One who would change their lives. Recognizing the Savior in their midst, they rejoice and Simeon even says “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word.” This phrase, known as the Nunc Dimittis, begins Compline prayer in the Daily Office. It’s a signal that the work of watchful waiting is complete. Take a breath, take a rest, rejoice. The Savior is here!
In the state of the world in 2020, we have an innate understanding of how we both must rest and can’t rest. We know we are never doing enough to usher justice into the world; we are simultaneously weary from both witnessing the constant injury to the world and the work of repairing it. In these days after Christmas, in one of the most exhausting years we’ve experienced, let’s take a cue from Simeon and recognize the Savior in our midst; let’s take a cue from the Medieval Church and mark the Twelve Days of Christmas as best we can by limiting the work and upping the revelry. You and the people charged to your care might think, “But Regina, I still have to work! There’s still so much to do! We can’t just *stop* until Epiphany.” A friend reminded me once that absolutely nothing has to be done to perfection and it’s the lie of capitalism that tells us that unless we do something perfectly, it’s not worth even attempting. This goes for everything, whether it’s Christmas cookies, justice work or taking a nap. A disruptive preacher can take the declaration of Simeon and create the framework for rest with the encouragement to pursue it, then live into it and model it for yourself for a few days as best you can.
One more thought about Simeon and Anna. Each time I read this text, I think of how Simeon and Anna didn’t just recognize the Savior - they believed in him. They believed in what had been prophesied about him, about how he would utterly change the world. Simeon takes the child in his arms and blesses him, further proclaiming the things he would do.
I wonder: what might happen if we took the idea of recognizing what was in our midst and blessing it? Each person who gathers with us has a place and role in bringing about the Kin-dom of God. After a season of watchful waiting, perhaps a word of blessing and prophecy over our people is not just appropriate, but necessary. The Savior has come, yes - and in coming to us has empowered us to embrace our role in furthering the Kin-dom of God. The Spirit rests on us as it did Simeon, and through our declaration of faith (and our affirmation of baptismal promises) we are called to the same things Jesus did - the things Simeon saw as a blessing as he cradled the child. As you rest and as you rejoice this Sunday, take a moment to also speak a blessing, acknowledging the essential role each of the faithful have in the continued work of the Kin-dom.
by Rev. Collette Broady Grund
In my 16th year of ordained ministry, I may finally have run out of sermons based on a traditional reading of the Christmas Eve story from Luke’s gospel. So I’m wondering, is this the year to (gently) disabuse people of the notion that the Holy Family was relegated to the unholy barn out back for Mary to give birth with only the untrained Joseph by her side?
Part of me thinks no! Perhaps in this hard year, my people will want the comfort of the familiar nativity scene complete with its lily white Jesus and immaculately groomed postpartum Mary, under the adoring gaze of some equally well-groomed animals.
But the other part of me (which is winning in this moment) thinks that in a year where so many hard truths about our lives have been revealed, maybe it is exactly the moment for a more truthful telling of Jesus’ birth narrative. Because honestly, this truth is not hard at all, it’s just different. And jaw-droppingly beautiful.
I won’t go into all the details here, because you can google it, but if we read Luke’s story in the context of first century Palestine, a new picture of Jesus’ birth emerges. Mary and Joseph were invited into an already crowded house (it was the upstairs guest room that was already full, not the inn) by a family of strangers who saw that Mary was about to have a baby away from home and decided to help. There on the lower floor of their house, where courtyard merged with kitchen and living space and animal sleeping quarters, Mary was attended by women from that home and neighboring households who knew what she didn’t about birthing babies. Meanwhile Joseph likely helped feed the animals and watch the children while he waited for news about this baby who was and wasn’t his. And when he was born, the women helped Mary wrap Jesus in clean cloth and learn to nurse, while the men refreshed the hay in an old manger so the new mother could have a safe place to put Jesus and sleep.
This means that the miracle of the Christmas story is not only about God taking on human flesh and being born in an inconvenient time and place, but about the radical hospitality those families in an unknown neighborhood of Bethlehem gave to a family they didn’t know was holy. They simply saw an enormously pregnant stranger in the early stages of labor and knew they couldn’t turn her away. And because they didn’t look away when a stranger needed their help, they witnessed the birth of God in their own living room.
The hospitality of this family extends even to a bunch of the town’s shepherds, who came in the middle of the night telling crazy stories of angels in the sky. “Why not?” that holy householder must’ve said. “Come on in, the house is already overflowing!” We often call Mary, Joseph and their baby the Holy Family, but it would be entirely appropriate to call the family that housed Jesus’ birth holy, too.
And for that matter, to call all the families that practice radical hospitality holy:
* The holy family in my congregation who found a homeless mother and her three children in the Fleet Farm parking lot and took them home to feed them and keep them warm until the local shelter opened for the evening.
* The other holy family in my congregation who not only raises four children of their own, but welcomes both daycare and foster children into their home and treats them with love equal to their own.
* The holy families who’ve accompanied migrant children separated from their parents at our country’s border.
The miracle of Christmas persists not only because of Jesus’ ongoing presence in the world, but through the radical hospitality of all those who see a person in need and say, “Why not? Come on in.” That Bethlehem family then becomes one in a long line of holy families who extend radical hospitality and inadvertently welcome God’s own presence into their midst.
by Rev. Priscilla Paris Austin
The fourth Sunday of Advent is one of my favorite and most frustrating Sundays of the liturgical year. In many settings, the lectionary texts will take a backseat to the Children’s Christmas program. As happens during Holy Week, the Sunday before the major festival is laden with the burden of making sure folks hear the whole story, just in case they don’t come back during the week. In some ways I love this opportunity: gathering families, creating memories with them that center on the story of Jesus’ birth. And I get frustrated because in our rush to the manger, we can miss the richness of the day’s texts. Because, truth be told, no one in the pews will hear a thing the preacher says after “little Suzy and Amal” appear as Mary and Joseph. This year, when Christmas programs will be anything from simplified or techni-fied, or from over-produced to non-existent, the burden on the disruptive preacher is: how do we honor the contribution and learning of the children, while still challenging folks to see Jesus in new ways? My encouragement is to embrace the essence of the texts for this Sunday, as they provide a lovely opportunity to move from individualistic worship of God or the way we’ve always done the Christmas program to the communal liberation of God’s kin-dom come and the gift and freedom for the Christmas program to be different. What follows are some connections you can ponder between the text and your Christmas program.
• 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 1 - David wants to build God an opulent cedar temple, and Nathan tells him, God is with you, do what you want. But God sends a different message: Why should you build a temple for me? I didn’t live in a temple when I brought my people out of Egypt, and I don’t live in one now. A tent has always been my home wherever I have gone with them. God doesn’t require extravagant offerings. God is with us, the people. This is what God has always done and will always do, whether in a tent or a manger, in Christmas programs that are pre-recorded or via Zoom, in a live nativity scene in the church parking lot and the simple advent wreath on our kitchen table. Wherever the people of God are, God goes with us.
• Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 - The psalmist sings God’s praise - “God’s love can always be trusted, and his faithfulness lasts as long as the heavens.” While Christmas programs may change format and performers, while our personal preferences of what it will look like will not be met, while technology may or may not cooperate, while the world tests our discernment of what is “Fake News,” the Good News is what the angels declare and the psalmist has said before: God can be trusted, then, now and always.
• Romans 16:25-27 - Paul’s letter to the Romans speaks first to the good news he brings, but moves to the Good News that has been proclaimed through the ages. The eternal God commanded his prophets to write about the Good News, so that all nations would obey and have faith. The message is for ALL nations.
• Luke 1:26-38, 46-57 - The angel appears to Mary with a message that starts with her and points to Jesus but is really about saving the whole nation of Israel. The angel greeted Mary and said, “You are truly blessed! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was confused by the angel’s words and wondered what they meant. Then the angel told Mary, “Don’t be afraid! God is pleased with you, and you will have a son. His name will be Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of God Most High. The Lord God will make him king, as his ancestor David was. He will rule the people of Israel forever, and his kingdom will never end.” In Mary’s response, consider including verse 57 to remind people that Mary made this declaration, not in the solitude of her room, but in the presence of her cousin Elizabeth. By being together, they both were affirmed that their individual stories were part of a larger narrative written by God. The Lord has used his powerful arm to scatter those who are proud. God drags strong rulers from their thrones and puts humble people in places of power. God gives the hungry good things to eat, and sends the rich away with nothing. He helps his servant Israel and is always merciful to his people. In Mary’s declaration of thanks to God, she proudly speaks God’s promise that is bigger than herself alone: a promise to turn the world upside down, to defund the police, to restore economic balance through reparations, to bring freedom and liberation to all in need.
May your people come to worship on the Fourth Sunday of Advent expecting it to be all about the cute little sheep, and leave knowing their call to share the good news with the world.
by Elle Dowd
The season of Advent echoes with the words of the prophets. From the Hebrew Bible to the Second Testament, to our own streets here and now, there are people who have seen the vision of the world that is breaking in among us and are - despite our resistance - trying to get our attention. Through their poetry, their songs, their megaphones, they turn our heads, forcing us to face the injustice and suffering we often try to avoid staring at head on.
This 3rd Sunday of Advent is practically a buffet of prophets, especially if the preacher chooses to use the option of Luke 1:46-55 as the Psalm of the day. Each prophet’s voice offers something different, because God’s word is incarnate according to each time and place, and because God’s prophets are not cookie cutter versions of one another. Yet there are strands that connect each of these readings; a clear call for justice for the oppressed and an exhortation to live differently in response to what God has done.
Notable, too, is that each one of these prophets has an obvious impact on Jesus, himself. As we are preparing for Jesus’ birth, this Sunday helps us to learn about his influences by studying the voices that formed him.
The words of the prophet Isaiah are notable in and of themselves, but they are particularly notable because they are later used by Jesus himself in Luke 4 as part of his inaugural address to the synagogue in Nazareth. Jesus, quoting Isaiah, uses this text as a kind of mission statement to tell his hometown what his ministry is all about. He declares that the Good News is particularly for the oppressed, that captives will be set free, and that prisoners will be released.
Each petition of this prophecy is powerful. If you spend time meditating on them, you could easily make connections to our modern context. For example, in a year where over 282,000 people have died of COVID in the United States alone, there are plenty of people who are mourning and in need of God’s comfort. As more and more of us know people personally who have suffered because of the virus, or even died, we see so clearly the ashes of mourning we are sitting in. The longing we feel to trade in signs of mourning for a celebratory garland is palpable. As businesses close, people lose their homes because of the pandemic, and Downtown looks more like a Ghost Town, the prophet speaks of ruins being rebuilt and repaired. And in a country where over 2.3 million people are incarcerated, a rate higher than anywhere else in the world, there are many families looking at empty chairs this holiday season, yearning for release for the captives. The words of Isaiah resound in our streets, voices from our own prophets chanting, “Defund the police!” End the prison industrial complex. End the police state. End mass incarceration. Give liberty to the captives. Release the prisoners.
We often strip this prophecy of its power in our own day by acting as if these words are merely a metaphor. But they have not always been read this way. A proclamation of release for captives was radically comforting in Isaiah’s time when heard by a community suffering under exile and displacement. They were radical and challenging to those in positions of power in Jesus’ time. The people in Nazareth didn’t consider these words simply metaphors. They took his words so seriously that they were angry enough to attempt to throw Jesus off a cliff. If our preaching of these words doesn’t comfort captives and challenge the elite to the point that we are worried we might be thrown off a cliff, then maybe we aren’t doing them justice.
Mary, Mother of God, is another prophet present in today’s reading. We so readily tame Mary, praising her for her humbleness or her obedience. But we forget that Mary is as much of a disruptive prophet as she is a gentle mother. So often these things go hand in hand. As a mother, a preacher, and a community organizer, I often tell people that each of these roles “use the same muscle” for me. These identities are not in conflict with one another; they are integrated and related. I am a community organizer BECAUSE I am a mother. I am a pastor BECAUSE of what I have learned from activists in the streets. And I am not the only one. When I think of Mother Mary, I think of Brittany Ferrell, an activist I met during the Ferguson Uprising. My mind flashes back to a familiar image of her; a megaphone in her hand, her daughter, Kenna, on her back, the words of Assata Shakur on her tongue. “It is our duty to fight for our freedom!” A modern Madonna and Child.
Those of us who have children or who care for children are fierce when it comes to advocating for the ones we love. Mary knew that caring for her child was about more than preparing a Pinterest-worthy nursery or putting together a crib. The way Mary prepared for the Christ-child to be born was by building the world that all children deserve; by defiantly proclaiming that God was overturning tyrants, lifting up the poor, feeding the hungry, and starving out the rich. This is how we must prepare, also.
It is important that this protest song escaped Mary’s lips in response to a proclamation from another woman, Elizabeth. This is one of the few powerful moments in scripture which passes the Bechdel test. Two named women (Mary and Elizabeth) are having a conversation together which is about something other than a man. It is about justice. Women and mothers have often spoken bold words to one another. Perhaps after the whirlwind Mary experienced with her visitation by Gabriel she needed the comfort of another woman’s company. It is in response to Elizabeth’s own revolutionary utterances that Mary begins to sing.
Just as Jesus was influenced by his ancestor, Isaiah, he was also very clearly influenced by his mother, Mary, and his aunt, Elizabeth. I imagine Mary singing this rebel song to Jesus as a lullaby. With a prophetic mother like Mary and a radical auntie like Elizabeth, how could John and Jesus turn out any differently?
John the Baptist
Reviewing Jesus’ life, we can see how much of his work was influenced by John the Baptist. After all, their relationship began before birth, when they recognized one another in their mothers’ womb just moments before Mary sang the Magnificat.
John did not conform to social conventions. He made the powerful uncomfortable. A few verses after our reading in John for today ends, John will baptize Jesus into this spiritual renewal movement. And Jesus will go on to follow the transgressive path that John walked. He will be a dissident - like John - and because of this, he will be arrested and killed like John.
John, like Jesus, was also influenced by the prophet Isaiah. When the religious leaders asked John, “Who do you think you are, baptizing and preaching like this?” John quotes Isaiah, calling himself, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness,” borrowing credibility and authority from his ancestor. John’s role in these verses is one of preparation. He was readying the world, like Mary did, for the coming Christ. He takes on the role of an amplifier by pointing to Jesus and telling people to listen to him. He uses his power as an influential (albeit strange) figure in his community, not for his own glory, but to further Jesus’ mission and ministry of love and liberation.
During difficult and polarizing times it is easy to feel like the strong, clear message of the prophets is too much to bear as preachers. When we are anxious we tend to turn inward. We think of our own preservation. We become risk averse. It may feel safer to leave proclamations of toppled tyrants or prison abolition to more comfortable times in our congregations. But it is important to remember that these words were not written for comfortable, easy times. They were first given to people suffering in exile, people suffering under occupation. They were spoken and recorded for times just like these, when people were poor and hungry and anxious and angry and on edge and desperate. They were terse, audacious words spoken when tension was already high and by people low on privilege, with little protection and a lot to lose.
1 Thessalonians admonishes us, “Do not despise the words of the prophets.” Our challenge as preachers is to commit to resisting the urge to water these words down in order to make them more palatable (or our jobs more secure). Our role in this time of preparation for Christ, is to cherish the words that Jesus also cherished and repeat them in a way that is dangerous and liberatory.
by Rev. Michelle Magee
Where I live, in California’s Central Valley, much of the ground was razed around the end of the nineteenth century with the invention of the Fresno Scraper by James Porteous. Yes, it was a fertile valley with rolling hills and natural waterways but people found it would be easier to farm if it were flatter. So, they flattened away. The land produced amazingly well, but it was utterly changed. Canals have not kept up with the irrigation needed and now the thousands of pumps bringing up water from the underground sources are sinking the land and causing tap water of some communities to be tainted with arsenic.
Isaiah speaks of leveling mountains to fill in valleys, the gospels repeat this claim. I don’t know if Porteous had a Biblical background to feel he was doing the Lord’s work when he invented that machine to flatten the valley. Certainly many people have felt over history that using the land however they want is part of their right, to the point of abuse that we see today in overharvesting of fossil fuels and destroying wilderness preserves.
I am confident however this is not what Isaiah was going for. Israel, as an agrarian society, surely made small changes in the landscape as they farmed, but the passage is not speaking of farmland, it is talking about building a path, a wide path, a superhighway, so that God can come easily to the people- and more literally so the people could more easily journey back from their exile. This hearkens back to the idea of the wide way of righteousness -- tsedeq – just and right living, described in the Torah as a wide path.
The leveling is a metaphor, not justification to razing creation for self-seeking purposes. In fact, the sense of harmony and co-creation with the land is an important part of the shalom, the peace that kisses righteousness in Psalm 85’s exquisite poetry:
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
Righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Fruitfulness will spring up from the ground,
And righteousness will look down from the sky.
The poem reveals the truth of how in order to have shalom, we need tsedeq . In Spanish there is no separate word for righteousness. It is justicia, justice, which kisses peace. In several places of the First Testament tsedeq is an adjective meaning just or fair. To me, the English word “righteous” is displaced from our vocabulary and daily lives. It is justice, not only the kind administered in courts, but the kind lived day by day, that can lead to the wholeness and peace of shalom. When a society has fairness woven in, when it has accountability, right actions, and right relationships, then there will be true peace and harmony. Yes love is a necessity, but the kind of love that embraces truth, not the cheap kind that papers over or avoids reality. It is tsedeq that looks down from heaven and tsedeq that walks before God, preparing the way in the final verses of the psalm.
Another beautiful thing about this exquisite poem is how the earth and the heavens come together. It is because of God that this happens, but it does not happen without the cooperation of those below. Into that cooperation enters the creation itself. The right relationship is with God, and neighbor, and the land, and the land and God and neighbor bless one another with an embrace; a kiss.
“Make straight the way of the Lord!” is the pronouncement of, “a voice” in Isaiah, quoted by Mark. John the Baptist called people to repent, be baptized, confess, be forgiven. To turn around and find God’s grace waiting to meet them.
If our repentance is a part of preparing a wide way for the Lord as Mark suggests, how are we called to repent in Advent 2020 to move toward tsedeq?
There are many things we can, and should, repent of: repent of not valuing Black and Brown lives; injustices in our economy and healthcare; self-centeredness and so much more. Let us not forget the Earth itself and how we treat it, we must repent of that as well. The right relationship with the land, respect for creation, is essential to the true shalom that God wants to cooperate with humanity to bring about.
I just saw news that some Portuguese young people are bringing a suit against several European countries for not doing enough to protect the environment. Protests against pipelines and global warming have been going on, and continue, often led by First Nations people (who often lead the way from their rich tradition of honoring the land). Local movements seek policies for better sustainability. Preachers may want to research what local ways churches can join in making right relationship, tsedeq with the earth around them, and name some of these ways humans and the creation work together with the divine as inspiration for our turning around, our repentance, this Advent.
It is the beginning of the good news that Mark announces, a story unfinished because we have a part in this story. We cannot underestimate our role in what God wants to do- but God also participates with us. Therefore we can boldly act- and boldly preach of the broad way of encounters and holy kisses; tsedeq that becomes the shalom God desires for all of us with all creation.
by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
Upon my first reading of the text from Isaiah this week, I heard Israel crying out to God, longing for God’s presence and unable to find it. I heard a people who felt abandoned by God in a time of great need. I heard this, and I felt a resonance, an agreement between my soul and the people of Israel. Yes, God, where are you now? So many terrible things are happening in our world and you feel so far away.
Then I read it again, and something in me shifted. I moved from the comfort of knowing people throughout history, even God’s chosen, have felt far from God, to the discomfort of conviction. I felt in my bones the knowledge that much of this feeling of God being far away is not of God’s doing -- God is, in fact, still right here, where God has always been, in the faces of those around us. We have turned away from the many ways God makes Godself known in the world around us. This is our doing. We need to own this.
It is a shame the lectionary doesn’t continue so that our people may hear God’s response to these cries -- a response God must be tired of giving by this point in Isaiah. In chapter 65 God tells the people (in a repeat of other conversations God has had through Isaiah, chapter 58 in particular),
“I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’
to a nation that did not call on my name.
I held you my hands all day long
to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;
a people who provoke me to my face continually…”
These people speaking in Isaiah 64 are the same people God has told repeatedly their festivals are not important if they are not doing justice, their fast days mean little if they are still oppressing people. Over and over again, God has told God’s people what they want to see from Israel is people living justly among one another, people who do not oppress each other or lie or cheat. God wants their people to feed and clothe one another. God continually reminds us that it is in these actions their presence can be found, that by doing these things, God is near.
Here the people are again, lamenting God’s distance when they have not changed their behavior. And not just lamenting God’s perceived distance -- they actually have the gall to blame God for their sin. “But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed,” they cry. For real? Like, you’re really gonna do this? God has told you time and time again what God asks for and painted amazing pictures of the future that will come for those who obey these calls for justice. God’s response in Isaiah 65 gives us the roots to Mary’s song we will remember as we continue through Advent,
“Therefore thus says the Lord God:
my servants shall eat,
but you shall be hungry;
my servants shall drink,
but you shall be thirsty;
my servants shall rejoice,
but you shall be put to shame…
For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered or
come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.”
We are not unlike the people of Israel in this way of continually calling out to God, asking for God’s presence, wondering where God is, perhaps even blaming God for our own communal failures. All the while, we are in our collective situation because we, as a people (white people in particular) have been so seduced by the American Gospel of individualism disguised as freedom that we cannot even recognize that this situation we are in is largely of our own collective making. We struggle to glimpse God because, in our belief that we not only can, but must, do everything ourselves, we have separated ourselves from not only one another but from God. Millions have died because we have spent generations teaching personal responsibility over collective responsibility. Millions more suffer from the violence of white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, and so on because personal responsibility teaches us that we are only responsible for the things that we do intentionally as individuals and not for the structures we participate in and benefit from left to us by our forebears. Our belief in individualism and personal responsibility leads us to blame the homeless, the poor, the sick, and the disabled for their situations instead of looking at how these structures we have built limit people's access to what they need to have abundant life. We struggle to feel God’s presence because that presence lies in the loosening the bonds of injustice and the yoke of oppression, in feeding the hungry and housing the homeless. In short, we struggle to feel the loving presence of God because we have forgotten how to love our neighbor (and probably also ourselves). We have forgotten that it is within the stranger that God resides.
This may all feel a bit harsh for this season, especially in this year when people are starving for words that bring comfort and hope. But there is hope in this, is there not? Time is not up. God is not gone. We still have time to repent of our ways and to turn towards one another and, in doing, turn towards God. This is, after all, the season of preparation for Christ’s return. Repentance and atonement are indispensable components of preparation for God’s enfleshed return, as cleaning out the guest room is an indispensable part of getting ready for company. There is hope in the many descriptions scripture provides us of what the world would look like if we took seriously our responsibility to our roles as co-creators with God and people who hold the other half of a promise of salvation. There is hope in the beauty that can be created when we turn towards one another instead of away, and in the future of the world to come. As we are told in this week’s reading from the Gospel attributed to Mark, we do not know the time or the hour, but we must be ready. We must stay awake -- stay awake to the ways we participate in this world that feels like it is falling apart around us and how, through following God’s call, we can build something new, together.
by Elle Dowd
When compared to other feast days in our liturgical calendar, Christ the King - sometimes known as Reign of Christ - is relatively young. This holy day was instituted less than 100 years ago by Pope Pius XI in response to the threat of rising fascism in Europe. In that way, this feast of resistance continues to be tragically relevant. In the United States this month, many of us spent the days surrounding our national election in fear that the fascist who occupied the White House would stage a coup to ensure his continued rule. Under his administration, in the past year alone, we saw obvious examples of fascist eugenics, from sterilization through the forced removal of uteruses in people on our southern border, to the mishandling of the pandemic, weaponized as biological warfare. The rhetoric surrounding COVID-19 and the president’s leadership decisions showed a blatant disregard for people who 45 considered to be “the least of these.” The elderly were lifted up as a sacrifice to the gods of Wall Street in order to appease the economy. Resources were so scarce at certain points that people who are disabled or fat were declared to be less worth saving. Black and Brown people in particular continue to face disproportionate rates of infection and death. The elected leader of these United States retweets chants of, “white power” as our nation experiences yet another wave of racial reckoning in the wake of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, George Floyd, and so many others. In response to those protesting racial injustice, we saw, yet again, Empire empower the police state with millions of dollars in weapons against its own people while at the same time urging people to be, “peaceful.” This administration continues to support officers of the state using force against its own citizens under the guise of, “law and order,“ a white nationalist dog whistle, while many citizens cheer this on. Even though he is defeated, he continues to attempt to hold on to power, instinctively using the fascist playbook, while millions of Americans pay homage to him, genuflecting before his crumbling gold lamé throne.
It was only because of the heroic efforts of Indigenous, Black,and Brown organizers that this fascist was defeated in the voting booth (even if he does not recognize it yet).
Yet the defeat of one tyrant does not mean the defeat of fascism and white nationalism. White supremacy, cis-hetero patriarchy, and corporate greed know no political party. These characteristics may have been more obvious in Trump’s leadership, but they have been baked into the very office of the presidency from the inception of this nation. His removal is one step towards liberation, but there is much to be desired in his successor, and much work left to do. This is a perfect time for a Christian holiday that explicitly fights fascism. Lean into it.
The Gospel reading for Christ the King is a picture of judgement. This is Jesus’ final discourse in Matthew before his passion. Jesus has just spent time warning his followers that his death is coming and that they will face persecution. So, while it is true that this apocalyptic parable is incredibly stark, it also contains good news for its original hearers. The disciples know from Jesus’ warnings that they could count themselves among those who will be hungry, thirsty, naked, and imprisoned. This parable puts the King in solidarity with their suffering, as one who suffers alongside them and who demands justice for the harm against them. The good news for the disciples, and for all who suffer, is that Christ is with us in our pain. Christ does not rule as earthly leaders rule, Christ does not sit on a throne lording power over people while they suffer, and he certainly doesn't cause suffering. Our king suffers with us.
Suffering is a reality for a growing number of people right now. This pandemic has meant that many people have lost their jobs and feeling hunger is not a metaphor. Trump’s gutting of the Clean Water Act means that more and more people are being poisoned by their drinking water, and being thirsty is very real. Immigrant children separated from their families at our border, now unable to be tracked down and reunited, definitely do not feel welcomed as strangers. Hospitals are again reaching capacity as cases of COVID-19 rise, and the sick are not able to receive visitors; peoples’ loved ones are dying alone and the frontline healthcare workers who could not save them weep in supply closets. Mass incarceration continues to disrupt families and lives - and prisons and jails have become major COVID hot spots.
In the midst of such enormous suffering, the Reign of God can feel far off. Matthew tells us that Christ’s reign is among us, now, in the kindness and dignity we show to the people that the world deems disposable. The Reign of God is not a country with borders. There are no imaginary lines drawn by imperial powers declaring who is in or out based on arbitrary maps. The people who are citizens of the Reign of God are recognized by the way they treat each other. The Reign of God is not made up of one idealized white super-race, the fantasy of fascist white nationalists. The letter to the Ephesians tells us that it is made up of people of all nations, all races, all skin colors. There is no savior in this commonwealth except The Savior. We should not bow, then, to any system or person demanding our uncritical obedience. No bosses, no masters, no idols deserve our allegiance. We pledge only to the sacrificial love and solidarity exemplified by Christ.
by Rev. Carla Christopher
I mentioned to a dear friend that I was writing on the famous parable of ‘The Talents’ and her response was “Ah, yeah. That one has long been the bane of my existence.” “Why?” I asked. “Because I am so bad at follow through. I have lots of talents and I feel like none of them are fully developed or utilized. It’s a struggle”.
There is a lot about this passage that is a struggle. As we continue our journey through the challenging cluster of Matthew’s grace and judgement parables, we once again are presented with those who don’t cross the finish line in time being tossed out into a void with weeping and gnashing of teeth. It would be inauthentic and insensitive not to wrestle with this part of the text. As the generous giver of livelihood and purpose who comes, departs, then returns again for a final reckoning, we can reasonably assume we are meant to link the “master” with Jesus in Matthew’s parable. How do we reconcile the generous Jesus of love and compassion we know with a slave owning capitalist who would deny housing and even life to a frightened servant? It just doesn’t make sense.
I would invite us to direct our attention to earlier in the passage where the servant describes just why he buries his large sum of money in the dirt. He accuses the master of reaping where he did not sow and gathering where he did not scatter; completely denying that God is the source of all that grows. It is this remark that angers the master and inspires him to punish the servant and place the servant outside the circle of care and protection. If we are identifying the master with Jesus, clearly the problem here is that the servant doesn’t know Jesus. Despite trust given, love shown, and invitation extended, this person has made a deliberate decision not to recognize Jesus as he is, not to see or embrace the love that is offered. Just as we saw wedding guests refuse an invitation and Bridesmaids frolic without regard or care for the well-being of the coming husband, this parable gives us another example of people Jesus makes every attempt to reach only to be refused.
This is the Revised Common Lectionary sermonizing archive.