I’m not sure how many of you might be using this text, so let’s just hit it first. It’s a text that falls solidly the camps of patriarchy and heteronormativity that raised the hair on the back of my neck when I started reading it. Though instead of ignoring it, the reading could be an opportunity to talk about how we read and understand the Bible - if that would be useful in your congregation.
by Pr. Elizabeth Rawlings
Proverbs 1 20:33
Now I know not everyone uses the semi-continuous readings, but if you can at all use this reading USE THIS READING. I mean, you could really just read this and then sit down and stare at people.
Wisdom is a black woman.
That’s what I kept thinking as I read this reading from Proverbs.
Black women have been telling us. They’ve been telling us about issues from poverty to failing schools to violence to maternal mortality rates to the 2016 presidential election (in which 95% of black women voted for Hillary Clinton because they knew what was about to happen).
But we (I write this as a white woman, so white folk, especially white women, I’m talking to us) haven’t been listening.
by Rev Elizabeth Rawlings
It’s the end of the school year, likely the beginning of combining services or declining summer attendance. It’s a tired time of year for everyone. Yet there is a lot going on in the world and these readings offer us a number of different ways of coming at our current political climate, the way we talk about and view bodies, and the thing we all probably need more of right now -- hope.
Genesis 3:8-15: Now, what I want to do here is go off on a long tangent about how this story is quite possibly about the subjugation of a feminine/matriarchal God in the name of a patriarchal God, showing that sin comes into the world through listening to the Goddess (snakes are ancient symbols of the divine feminine), with the patriarchal God punishing the divine feminine for all time. However, that’s more a Bible study kind of thing (but you should totally do this and tell me how it went). Instead, what if we think about how before sin, there was no shame in being naked. Before sin, we were not ashamed of our bodies. There is no body shaming in the Garden of Eden, there is no body shaming in paradise. There is no shame in being naked or showing one's body in the kingdom of God. And, if we are practicing kingdom living on this earth and have been freed from sin by Christ, we might do well to practice loving our bodies and other people’s bodies regardless of their shape or the amount of clothing they wear.
1 Samuel 8-20ish: OMG THIS IS AMAZING. There is so much to preach in here. Israel is asking for a king and God is like, um, guys, do you know what that will look like in reality? This is one of those readings I feel like you could just read and then stand there and let the people soak it in. This is what a king looks like. A king is corrupt. A king will steal from you. A king will send your sons to war. This is a good message for both left and right -- for all of us who (at least from time to time) look to elected officials for salvation, as well as a counter narrative for that whole God appoints kings and kings are always doing God’s work narrative. (cue Derek Webb’s Savior on Capitol Hill).
Mark 3:20-35: You could connect this to the reading from 1 Samuel and talk about kings sewing division and the house divided not being able to stand and then connect that to the fact that Christ calls us to all see one another, our co-workers for the kingdom, as siblings*. You could also use this as a stepping stone to talk about any number of things, but I would encourage you, if this scripture is calling you this week, to take some time to talk about the children being ripped from their parents arms and placed in detention centers even when their parents are following the legal asylum process to enter the country, how we would not let this happen to our siblings, and Christ pretty much tells us these people are our family. This will work especially well if, last week, you talked about how Jesus ignored the Sabbath law for the law of Love.
2 Corinthians 4:13 - 5:1: This is a good one if your people are exhausted and need hope (which is where I am at right now and probably many of you with all of the end of the school year activities).
16So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
5:1For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Do not lose heart, dear friends. This journey is long and is filled with many success and failures, many trials and victories. But we are being renewed by the love of God each and every day. Do not lose heart. You’ve got this.
*please try to be aware of our trans and gender non-binary siblings and use words like siblings or cousins instead of binary language -- it’s one of those small things you can do that most people won’t notice, but trans and gender non-binary folx totally will
by Allison Johnson
The Sabbath. These two passages are built around the practice of the Sabbath for the Jewish community.
The context in both of these small passages is the same: what is permitted on the Sabbath? What can you do? What can’t you do?
We first encounter the Pharisees pointing the finger at the disciples for picking grain on the Sabbath. Their snark seems ever present: “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” Jesus’ response is, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
One point really jumps out here: who/what are you serving? And, what is the outcome of that service? Are human needs being met by picking grain, or by not picking grain? Is the law to rest something that is giving life? Or is it dealing death?
by Jodi Renee Giron
My first ever experience in a mainline church was on a Pentecost Sunday. I walked hand in hand with my Grandpa into his family’s church - a small Hispanic Presbyterian community housed in an old but well loved building. It was also my first encounter with a woman pastor. I remember how she seemed so lovely and mysteriously regal in her red stole. The tiny sanctuary was decked out in red balloons blowing with chaotic glee from the blast of a few window fans. Men in bright red jackets and ties were gathered around a radio in the fellowship hall listening to the Broncos game while the the women set out coffee and put on a festive parade of dresses in every Pantone of red, crimson, and scarlet. There was joyous liturgy in Spanish and English. Hymns sung and blessings passed with gregarious hugs. My little Baptist self was overcome. This was really my first time going all in for the Holy Spirit.
Truth Telling: The Spirit of Pentecost, the moment of Possession, the experience of the Holy Spirit and the embrace of the Divine
“Black Power, in short, is an attitude, an inward affirmation of the essential worth of blackness. It means that the black man will not be poisoned by the stereotypes that others have of him, but will affirm from the depth of his soul : "Get used to me, I am not getting used to anyone." And "if the white man challenges my humanity, I will impose my whole weight as a man on his life and show him that I am not that `sho good eatin' that he persists in imagining” Dr. James Cone, Ancestor
There’s been a lot of vulnerability that has erupted because perhaps there is a paradigm shift. Or maybe perhaps the anger, frustration, suffering and oppression that many of humanity have experienced in our lifetime. Or even, because we realize of the responsibility that our Ancestors have placed upon us and we can no longer afford to shrug it off, expecting someone else to pick it up. We realize that what the Risen Christ said to us about “loving one’s neighbor” means beyond the surface; it means going deeper and actually making an effort to put our bodies physically on the line for those as advocates, allies and co-conspirators.
by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
Here we have one of my favorite prayers: the passive aggressive prayer. The pray that is said to God both for God and for the sake of those overhearing the prayer. Fortunately, this prayer is more instructive and constructive than those occasionally spoken aloud during worship and in small groups (you know the kind, the prayers of thanksgiving for the altar guild, and may everyone learn to respect and appreciate their efforts).
There is a certain segment of American Christianity that feels deeply persecuted. If your congregation has some of these folk, this could be a good opportunity to talk a little about what persecution *actually* looks like. Jesus begins chapter 16 informing the disciples that, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.” There is no mincing of words here -- it’s not those who *might* kill you, it is those who *will* kill you. Jesus is telling the disciples that he is going to be lynched and, after he is gone, the same fate is awaiting them. We know what happened to the early Christians (persecution, it should be noted, they enacted on others as soon as they gained power). They were jailed, tortured and killed. They were forced to worship in secret. Perspective is everything.
Knowing that this is what awaits his disciples (and those who come after them), he prays for them, that they might be protected. But the question here is protected from what? He knows they are going to face oppression and death, and he is not asking they may be protected or delivered from that. In fact, this is the path of the Christian -- we are called to walk towards the cross. No, Jesus is not asking that their lives or bodies might be protected. He is asking God that their faith might be protected. When he says, “While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled,” Jesus is praying (both to God and AT the disciples) that they might stay in the fold, that they might be tempted by the evil one.
And how might the evil one tempt them? Perhaps with safety? With the knowledge that, if they stop witnessing the good news, if they stop sharing Jesus’s message that the kingdom is open to all who repent, if they stop retelling the story of the sheep and the goats, speaking the ridiculous nature of the beatitudes, if the do the bidding of the state and just quiet down, they can save their lives (but as we know from scripture, this is not the path to eternal life).
For too long now, Christians have implicitly and explicitly received the message that God desires to keep us safe, that being a Christian is about being safe. That being Christian is about power and dominance and cultural relevance all engineered so that Christians might live free from threat. This couldn’t be further from the truth. These words from Jesus show that God’s concern is that when the world around us is unsafe for those that preach the gospel we stay the course. Jesus prays that those that follow him might have the strength to stick around when the world makes it difficult to preach the word, when our lives are threatened for that very thing. This is an important word both for those who are convinced that the life of a Christian is to be a comfy, safe life at the top of the power pyramid AND those who find themselves threatened because the word they preach is threatening to the world. Keep faith, friends. Keep faith.
by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
Why does it seem as though some weeks in the RCL finding something to preach on seems impossible, and other weeks every reading gives us at least one juicy direction for preaching. This week, there’s just so much good stuff. I’ll give you a few possibilities and one way (I think) it can all get tied together, if you are into that sort of thing.
We continue our readings in Acts with the story of the Ethiopian eunuch. If ever there were a time to reach out to your congregations about loving our non-gender conforming siblings in Christ, dear preachers, this is it. Do not back down. Lives depend on it. Literally.
Eunuchs were in a weird position in the ancient world. They were considered highly trustworthy, often serving as guards of important things or officials over important matters. They were also prohibited from being fully a part of the community of the people of Israel, as is stated in Deuteronomy 23 1-2. After a lot of research, I found that this either means eunuchs weren’t allowed to marry Jewish women *or* weren’t allowed to be in the temple itself *or* weren’t allowed to be in leadership. Regardless of the exact kind of prohibition, there were limitations on how eunuchs were to be included in community and they were allowed high trust and also limited in their roles in society. This man would have been considered only partially a man by his contemporaries and, indeed, by many people today. Not considered fully male or female, this man would have lived in a gender and sexual limbo as far as society was concerned.
We are living in a time in which we are re-recognizing that gender is not binary (I say re-recognizing because Judaism had/had 6-8 genders depending on who you ask, and many other cultures throughout history have had space for more than two genders). For many this realization has led to a new found freedom and ability to be oneself. For many others, this reorientation around gender is scary and that fear all too often turns into anger, hate and violence. And for far too many people who find themselves outside of the gender binary, there is a space where this freedom and fear clash that ends up in depression, suicide, rape and murder. 45% of transgender people have attempted suicide. Forty Five percent. Transgender women are four times as likely to be victims of violence than cisgender women. Trans women have a one in twelve chance of being murdered; trans women of color have a 1 in 8 chance of being murdered.
I have trans and gender non binary friends who -- here in liberal Seattle -- are harassed on the daily. Friends who some days don’t feel like going outside at all. More than once I have found a transgender youth on the doorsteps of our ministry looking for help because they had been kicked out of their home.
It seems as though we do not have room for people in our society who do not fit into the gender binary western society at some point decided on as fact (science also disputes this “fact”). At best, we push them to the margins and do whatever we can to keep transgender and gender non conforming people out of the public sphere (like, for example, not letting them pee in public spaces or refusing to use the pronouns they request be used). At worst, their lives are taken through physical and/or emotional violence.
And yet here in Acts we have a story that tells us that God’s kingdom is big enough for those who do not fit into the gender binary. Philip does not tell the eunuch that he must change in order to be baptized. He shares the good news of Jesus Christ, the eunuch claims HIS right to baptism right then and there and Philip is like, “Let’s do this.”
The story of scripture is a story in which God’s love is continually opening to more and more people. Jesus consistently breaks boundaries and invites people into communion with him that were considered other by those around him. The apostles continue this work in their travels and with whom they share the message of Christ. Philip was instructed to do this. He was straight up told by God to go get in the cab with that dude who was a man but had no testicles, tell him about Jesus and get him baptized.
In a time when trans people are both more visible and more at risk than ever, this is an important word to preach. Be brave. You can totally tie this into the call in 1 John to love one another. Throw in a little bit of this: “20Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
An additional direction that I want to write about briefly is the idea of abiding in God. I have been thinking a lot lately about the difference between abiding and believing, particularly with the way some of us western Christians do belief. For far too many of us (and our parishoners) belief is an intellectual exercise, an assent to the existence of Jesus as God and agreement with (most) of the creeds. So long as we say the yes we’re good, right?
But the author of John, both in his gospel and letters, speaks of abiding in Christ. It is through abiding in Christ that we bear good fruit, according to today’s reading from John. What does it mean to abide in Christ? How does the world look if we see the world through Christ’s eyes, and love the world through Christ’s heart? How would we be different? Might we, perhaps, be able to see people as the beloved children of God they really are? To feel the pain of those we hurt and to love them more deeply? Would our fear and hate and suspicion melt away? How does this help us read the story about the Ethiopian eunuch? How does it help us view the world?
Be brave, preacher friends. There are quite literally lives at stake.
Definitions and more information on LGBTQIA+ issues: http://queergrace.com/encyclopedia/
References on gender in Judaism: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/37225
Statistics on violence, depression and non-binary genders:
by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
It turns out it is hard to write for this week because of the variety of the readings and because some people do Palm Sunday, some do Passion Sunday, some combine the two. So here are some thought on this week written as I sit on a break from a border immersion experience in El Paso/Juarez with students from The Sanctuary, the campus ministry I co-lead.
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The beginning of the end... before the beginning.
Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin
March 11, 2018
Let’s name it. Sin is an uncomfortable topic. In church we seem to either be consumed with each other’s sins or we avoid “dwelling” on sin because “we are forgiven”. Rarely to I have conversations with folks willing to engage in naming, confessing, repenting. It’s a shame, because when I have had those conversations with people, it’s amazing how much joy comes from them. It downright liberating. And every time I witness that liberation, I wonder, why don’t we do this more?