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Love Changes People

When staff and leadership were first discussing doing a sermon series on Core Values, I was pumped. One of the reasons I love this church so much is because of the core values held.

  1. Jesus is Lord
  2. Everyone is Welcome
  3. Relationships Matter More Than Anything
  4. Love Changes People
  5. Everyone has Gifts to Share
  6. We want everyone to experience the grace we’ve received.

These are powerful. These values embodied will change the world. I truly believe that. I believe living the Gospel, embodying the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only thing that will change and heal the world. And I believe it is our duty as followers of Jesus to be that change in the world…to be the embodiment of Jesus in the world.

Afterall, is that not what we are called to? Paul speaks of the Church as the Body of Christ, with Christ as the Head (Jesus as Lord and Commander).

12 Just as the human body is one, though it has many parts that together form one body, so too is Christ.[t] 13 For by one Spirit we all were immersed and mingled into one single body.[u] And no matter our status—whether we are Jews or non-Jews, oppressed or free—we are all privileged to drink deeply of the same Holy Spirit.[v]

14 In fact, the human body is not one single part but rather many parts mingled into one. 15 So if the foot were to say, “Since I’m not a hand, I’m not a part of the body,” it’s forgetting that it is still a vital part of the body. 16 And if the ear were to say, “Since I’m not an eye, I’m not really a part of the body,” it’s forgetting that it is still an important part of the body.

17 Think of it this way. If the whole body were just an eyeball, how could it hear sounds? And if the whole body were just an ear, how could it smell different fragrances? 18 But God has carefully designed each member and placed it in the body to function as he desires.[w] 19 A diversity is required, for if the body consisted of one single part, there wouldn’t be a body at all! 20 So now we see that there are many differing parts and functions, but one body.

21 It would be wrong for the eye to say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” and equally wrong if the head said to the foot, “I don’t need you.” 22 In fact, the weaker our parts, the more vital and essential they are.[x] 23 The body parts we think are less honorable we treat with greater respect. And the body parts that need to be covered in public we treat with propriety and clothe them. 24 But some of our body parts don’t require as much attention. Instead, God has mingled the body parts together, giving greater honor to the “lesser” members who lacked it. 25 He has done this intentionally so that every member would look after the others with mutual concern, and so that there will be no division in the body. 26 In that way, whatever happens to one member happens to all. If one suffers, everyone suffers. If one is honored, everyone rejoices 1 Corinthians 12: 12-26).

I love our core values. But we have a long way to go to embodiment….myself included.

 I originally chose to teach on Relationships Matter Over Anything, as this is the core foundational theology of my doctoral dissertation (I have developed an entire theology of healing called “Rooted Restoration” centered on the foundational understanding that we were created to live in right relationship: with God, with self, with others, with creation. Sin is best understood then, as anything that breaks down one of these core relationships).

I was really excited to teach on that. Finally I could speak and teach as the well-polished public speaker I have been trained to be, as I have made this presentation numerous times in my professional life (afterall I love you guys and am new here, and am prone to do a little peacocking as l like to call it when I’m trying to win over someone’s affections…and I know I’m a great public speaker. Painful truth for me to own, but true none the less. I like to be liked, much to my detriment sometimes).

But I’m not called here to be great. As much as I am great at my calling, I am not called to be great. My greatness is found in my weakness, in my mess, in my places of greatest shame and trial and defeat. For those are the places Christ is most known in my story. Those are the places the grace of God thrives.

Wouldn’t it figure then that a need to switch Sundays would arise and I would find myself teaching/leading on Love Changes People and I find myself invited to share a story I have never publically shared before… the story of the past seven years of deconstruction in my life. The story of healing from church abuse and need to leave the church and the love and grace I have received here at CLC and how it is changing me and making me a better woman. And while that sounds lovely, it feels horrible. Because to accept your love means I have to lay down my hate. But hate is real. And sometimes in this cruel world it feels like the only way to survive and find strength.

But hate won’t change anything.

Love changes things. Love changes people.

The love of this church has healed in me in more ways than I can share in a short space and time. I hope we have many years together to grow in love and witness the transformation love brings into our personal and communal lives, and that I have opportunities like I will when I teach this sermon to share with you all how you have changed me.

But to share that love, to bring you into the understanding, I have to bring you into the depravity of where I was…the brokenness and shambles my life was in…the horrible ways I used to embody the opposite of love. You have to see the ashes if you are to understand the beauty, otherwise the beauty of it might be missed, to the detriment of us all. And the ashes need to be heard because we need to talk about our brokenness if we are going to heal it.  

Life is messy. It’s time we roll up our sleeves and get messy church…starting with us. Starting with our own stories and voices and lives, so that we can invite others outside of our community into the grace we are all receiving and have received.

I am called here to help youth and emerging adults know, love, embody the Spirit of, and follow Jesus in this life and empower and equip them in their Creator ordained calling...and if they don't want that, then I simply want to teach them how to navigate this hard, difficult world. The second leading cause of death in the United States for ages 14-23 is suicide. That reality has to stop. So even if they have no interest in learning about Jesus and God  (which if you have met or heard me, is central to my life so comes up in everything for me and they know this), I want them to have a space where they know they are loved and are able to grow and develop fully into who they are. I want them to experience love, grace, mercy, acceptance, value, worth, goodness, beauty, change, growth and everything good this world has to offer, even if for some reason there is a barrier to know Jesus or Creator....that to me does not hinder my want for them to know they are loved and cared for...and while I want them to know how big and deep and wide love is, that is a choice they get to make. I can only choose for me.  

My choice for all humans is love. Because love is the only thing that healed or saved me in this world. Love changes people. And it starts with us.  Are we ready to get messy in love? 

Sunday's Sermon: Spirit Breath

“Please, officer, I can’t breathe.” I can’t breathe.

George Floyd pleaded that he couldn’t breathe. One officer knelt on his neck, one on his torso, and one on his legs. And they pinned him to the pavement so hard that he couldn’t move air through is airway – he couldn’t breath.

It’s tragic. It’s evil. When this happens over and over again throughout our country, unarmed black men killed in custody of the government, of the police, the racism that’s built into our systems of law and order is blatant. It’s blatant, and it’s appeared to be very stubborn. Because nothing changes. It just keeps happening again and again.

And so, yes, protests. And fires. Lots of fires. And with the fires, a lot of businesses burned. Minority-owned businesses. Community centers. Grocery stores. Beloved and important places of community. People living in these areas that are afraid. And that has made a lot of news lately.

But none of these things – Buildings. Businesses. Even order, are more important than George Floyd’s life. He couldn’t breath, because they suffocated him.

When I was growing up, I was both excited and terrified of the day when I could be an acolyte in church. The one responsible for lighting the candles and snuffing them out. The one responsible for giving the ushers the offering plates, and other duties as assigned.

But it as the candles, and the fire, that really drew me. Being in front of people, being in the center, that wasn’t so exciting to this shy kid from the farm. But the fire – that was exciting. And I always wondered how this this worked. I’d watch acolyte after acolyte put out the candles, and I’d analyze it – was there a lever in there somehow. Was there a little squirt gun inside? How does this upside down cup put out a candle, put out a fire?

But there’s nothing in there – no gadget, no mini squirt gun. Just an upside down cup. A snuffer. It simply chokes the air out of the fire. I can’t breath. That little snuffer is able to overwhelm a candle. And put it out in mere moments.

Every time an unarmed black man is killed by police – overwhelmed, either by gunfire or bodily force – and I think about some of George Floyd’s last words – please, officer, I can’t breath – now I think about that candle snuffer.

Now this day, Pentecost, we celebrate the giving of the Breath – the Spirit – to the disciples. The people. The church. Jesus breathes the Spirit on them and says: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

In acts, the Spirit comes as tongues of fire. Resting on the people. And giving them to the ability to speak in their own languages and understand one another in a way that’s never been possible. Let me say that again: giving them the ability to speak in their own languages and understand one another in a way that’s never been possible.

So maybe the protesting and more recently, the people rioting, that we’ve seen recently, are tongues of fire. Tongues of fire, resting in our communities – a way the spirit has moved in, so that people can be heard. A quote from Dr. King in 1967 that keeps popping up on social media, that Andrea, our youth director, quoted in her blog post on Friday, captures this:

“Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”

 

A riot is the language of the unheard. And so the tongues of fire. The Spirit. The breath. The life. That cannot be so easily extinguished this time. That beckons to be heard. To be listened to. To be taken seriously. Tongues of fire. Of the Spirit. Of God – of Justice. Now I’m not condoning the harmful fires – the burning of minority-owned businesses or  centers of community or grocery stores – those seem to have been set by people working to escalate the violence and divide our community even further. But the fires – the ones from the first nights of protests. The pent up rage from people who have had their dreams crushed, their sons killed and jailed, their kids given broken educations.

 

Another set of words I’ve been reading, that’s been shared a lot the last few days, is Harlem, by Langston Hughes:

 

What happens to a dream deferred?

 

                       Does it dry up   

                    like a raisin in the sun?

                        Or fester like a sore—

                        And then run?

                        Does it stink like rotten meat?

                       Or crust and sugar over—

                       like a syrupy sweet?

 

                        Maybe it just sags

                       like a heavy load.

 

                                           Or does it explode?

It’s exploding. Isolated, innocent black men keep getting snuffed out, and so, you know what you need to do when fires keep getting snuffed out. Give them more air. More breath. More Spirit. Tongues of fire, so that they can be heard. So that we all can listen. And build a better world.

But to do that, to listen well, to understand, to comprehend, we need to do better, to dig, to learn about ourselves. To search our hearts. To understand our racism. To understand how the choices and decisions we make, the structures and society that we’ve build, continue to put the dreams of black and brown people on hold.

This week I was moving some furniture down in my basement that hasn’t been moved in a while, and I found 2 Easter Eggs. Not the plastic kind that you put candy in, but real, hard-boiled dyed easter eggs. Apparently, the Easter Bunny hid them really well and didn’t have a great accounting system for when Hilde was finding them.

But I thought it was funny, because Easter was our last big high holy day – before today. 50 days ago. Easter, we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection, and throughout the season, how Jesus keeps showing up with the disciples, with us, so that we can believe.

Today, Pentecost, the giving of the Holy Spirit, is when we’re given the Spirit, the breath, something that is part of us in our daily life. That helps us discern right and wrong. That helps us learn and change and grow as human beings. That helps us change.

And so, Pentecost, the Spirit, is equipping us for what we need to do – to dig deep in our lives and learn, and to grow, and to change. To acknowledge our own racism and privilege. How can we do that though? Hard work. Loving work. Work that reflects our love for our neighbors. Stay tuned – but this time of Coronavirus seems like a great time to undertake this important work.

Ultimately, the Spirit is about generosity. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus says, which gives us all the power and the ability to forgive others. Generosity of grace and life and breath. The opposite of snuffing out a flame, the Spirit comes to give breath, life, hope, healing, and justice. Generously. Fully.

How is the Spirit working in your life to bring generosity at this time? The Spirit brings us the energy and will to change, to learn, to grow, to engage in unlearning harmful beliefs and behaviors, like racism. The Spirit gives us the will to change.

And to give – to give a more generous view of the protests than we might. To give supplies or to volunteer – look for a flocknote today about where you can bring donations or volunteer if you’d like.

The Spirit is what enlivens this community of faith, this body of Christ, to be generous as well. The Spirit recently worked through the council to send some significant donations to local organizations. Check this out (play video).

May it be so with our spirits, with our hearts, with our time, as well. Amen.

Unity and the Liberty Bell

based on John 17:1-11 

The Liberty Bell, or original Pennsylvania State House Bell, was first ordered in 1751 to be hung in the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, now widely known as Independence Hall. In the years that Alissa and lived in or near Philadelphia, we took many visitors to see the Bell, now in a beautiful new visitors center in downtown Philadelphia. If you haven’t ever been to see it, when it’s safe to travel again I recommend it, along with the other historical sites in downtown Philly.

 

The reason it’s famous, of course, is that the PA state house is the where the 1st and 2nd Continental Congress met, where they drafted the Declaration of Independence and Constitutional Convention where they drafted the United States Constitution. It was rung on July 2, 1776, so signify a positive vote on the Lee Amendment to declare Independence from Great Britain. John Adams said: The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. . . . It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore.”

But it wasn’t until the 1830s that the Bell became known as the Liberty Bell, associated with Abolitionists seeking the end of slavery in America.

The other thing it’s most famous for is that it’s cracked. Not just a little crack – but there’s a large gap in the bell. The first bell that was ordered from London in 1751 cracked on its first test ring in the State House, after which a local foundry melted it down and recast it to the bell that still exists.

But that Bell, around the time it was run for George Washington’s birthday in the 1840s, developed a crack that affected its tone and risked splitting it. And so, people tried to repair it.

But how do you repair cracked metal – especially a bell – something that not only needs to be functional, but that needs to sound – that needs to ring? And continue to be durable in order to ring?

How do you unify something that’s under so much pressure to come apart? Or seems to want to be apart? That’s Jesus’ prayer, just before he goes to the cross. Just before he’s subjected to abuse and pain – before he is literally torn apart on the cross, he prays for his followers: “Protect them in your name, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

The people were divided then – about how to treat Jesus. Who to listen to. Who to trust. What to believe. And so Jesus prayed that the people be united.

And when we think of United – I think it helps to have an image in mind about what that means. Maybe a bell. Something that’s made of different parts, but the one object, whose purpose is to do something. And in the case of a bell, to do something beautiful and important. To ring, to gather the people. To ring, to celebrate. To ring, to share important news of the day.

I’m thinking a lot about unity on this Memorial Day weekend. In the days when I was growing up and taking care of a rural cemetery with a lot of WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam Veterans, it was always a weekend to notice all the flags. And to be a part of the ceremonies at the cemeteries to honor our veterans.

The time we’re living in, this time of COVID-19, has been compared to World War II – the biggest crisis the world has faced since then. Because it affects all of us. And we don’t know how long it’s going to go on, until there’s herd immunity or a vaccine. We don’t know what the coming years will bring.

And I have to tell you – I’m worried for us as a people. Because when I think about World War II, now, granted, I wasn’t there. But I’ve heard and read so much about that time. There weren’t any domestic automobiles and even the farm machinery manufacturers shifted some production to military materiel.

People planted victory gardens. Women went to work in the factories and we have the proud heritage of stories like Rosie the Riveter. Half a million small businesses closed. And 291,000 US soldiers died in combat. But I have the sense, at least now looking back, that the country and the people were united in their efforts, and doing everything to support the troops on the front lines and defeat the powers of evil and tyranny in the world.

Today, the front lines against COVID-19 are different, but just as deadly. The troops aren’t military personnel, but nurses, doctors, EMTs, essential workers. The goods that factories are producing in support of this pandemic aren’t tanks and airplanes, but masks, gowns, gloves, and tests. Even though it’s different, I’d love to be able to say that I think we’re doing everything in our power to help and protect those on the front lines – the doctors and nurses that are fighting this on our behalf.

But I can’t say that. In fact, it feels like we need Jesus’ prayer more than ever – that we become unified, knowing that we are part of the same beautiful instrument with a single purpose. Because it seems like to so many, shopping, and sitting in a bar or restaurant with strangers, or getting back to having large crowds in churches right now, or doing whatever is necessary to feed our fragile economy  – is more important that our shared goal of defeating this virus with as few lives lost as possible.

So, I’m thankful for Memorial Day – and for the vision it lifts up for us of a country that was at one time unified in purpose, and willing to sacrifice, sacrifice everything, for the good of our neighbors, here and around the world.

We will do our part – as followers of Jesus, and as Americans – to support those working so hard on behalf of humanity. And we’ll beg for forgiveness when we get impatient with things.

So how do you repair a crack like on the liberty bell? Or any cracked metal under such pressure? Well, I’m no engineer, but from what I understand, you drill into the very end of the crack, if you can find it. And you relieve the pressure. In the liberty bell, the large gap that you can see is actually the repair of the bell – where they drilled it out wide, and then, I’m guessing, tried to patch it up with something at one time to make it ring true. But either the repair was unsuccessful, or they didn’t know how far the crack had already gone, but eventually, the crack grew, and they had to retire the bell – now a beautiful reminder of a longed for vision of unity.

Turns out, it’s not the obvious cracks that are so dangerous. It’s the hidden ones. The ones that go deeper and farther than we knew, or hoped. The ones that fester.

 

 

We have a lot of disunity in our country right now. And I think there’s a lot of things that are festering – a lot of divisions that just aren’t out in the open. Why is it that people don’t want to believe scientists? Why is it that people seem to suddenly believe that one has to be in church to pray? Or that going on with our normal daily lives is somehow going to save humanity?

This isn’t a “we can fix it” kind of message. There’s no easy or maybe even possible fix to this disunity that we have. It’s a glaring crack, and many other hairline cracks that are festering.

Unity, for us, is in Jesus hands. And he’s given us a prayer: that we be one – as The Father and the Son are one. Let it be our prayer.  Amen.

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