God has place this wonderful creation in our hands. As U2 sings, "It's a beautiful day, don't let it slip away." We have this one life to live on this beautiful planet so enjoy these reflections on God, faith, life, and music. "After the flood all of the colors came out. It's a beautiful day."

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Crack in the Wall, the Breach that Needs Mending

Dear Santa, Thank you for the dolls and pencils and the fish. It’s Easter now, so I hope I didn’t wake you. But honest, it is an emergency. There’s a crack in my wall. Aunt Sharon says it’s just an ordinary crack but I know it’s not. Because at night there’s voices. So please, please could you send someone to fix it. Or a policeman… or… hears the TARDIS crashing in the backyard. Back in a moment. Looks out the window. Thank you Santa. Amelia Pond 

I am a big Doctor Who fan. The Doctor is a time traveler who picks up companions for the journey with him through time and space to save the universe with his brains and a screwdriver. During the era of Matt Smith as the Doctor, one of the themes running through the show was a crack in the wall. This crack would appear randomly, consistently. This crack as the Doctor said would appear even if you knocked the wall down for the crack was everywhere and everything. The crack was a split in the side of the world. The Doctor’s purpose is to solve the mystery of the crack and fix the problem. He is one of the people in the universe who sets out each time we see him to fix the crack, to repair the breach, to mend the break, to restore the streets.

When I listen to the new unfold there is breach in our world, a brokenness where we could use someone, anyone to become the doctor. As we see the breach Orlando, Florida, where a gunman shot and killed 49, with 53 more injured, at a gay nightclub, before he was killed, because he had lost his love. When we hear and watch this news we are sad, angry, despairing, numb. There is one tragedy after another. In the 72 hours surrounding the Orlando shooting there were 250 other acts of gun violence in the United States. At those moments, we cry out, we call for someone to step up. This past weekend at the Illinois Conference Annual Celebration, Rev. Traci Blackmon, used the following scripture to help us focus on what and who we are called to be in these moments.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in arched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. Isaiah 58:9-12
The people of Israel are facing a time when there is hate speech, finger pointing, oppression, hunger, and poverty. They call out to God for help. And as Traci Blackmon says, God responds back: You fix is yourself, you have the power within you to fix this. You can be a repairer of the breach, you can restore the streets. We can repair the breach with a word of love, in world full of hate; we can speak up, stand up, act out when we see the breach and act to repair the crack rather than move on by with our lives. We can show and give grace, mercy, forgiveness. We can share laughter, asked the well-placed question, and just listen. It is our turn to see these cracks, these breaches, these tears in the walls of time and space and act to repair and restore our breaches. 

When we look around at the breaches here in Illinois due to the budget impasse: domestic violence and rape crisis centers at-risk for closing, mental health services have been cut or closed, seniors are facing the loss of meals on wheels and other services, colleges are laying off staff, schools may not be able to open in the fall, some life-saving cancer screenings have stopped, this is just a small glimpse of the breach. Isaiah says we are to be repairer’s and restorer’s - take to social media to demand change, contact your elected officials to demand action, work to replace incumbents, join protests, invite those around you to speak out and act. We can restore the streets here in Illinois. To take action you can send an email at the Community Renewal Society with this link budget. This will provide you the contact information so that you can call or write the governor, your state representative and senator. 

Don't wait for the Doctor to save you. Become one of the repairers of the breach. “We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer. And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.” Lin-Manuel Miranda

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Wrestling With the Word: The Good Samaritan

I have a confession to make.
I have been singing, American Idiot a lot.

I feel guilty about singing this, but every time I watch the news and the presidential race and laws passed to discriminate, I start singing. I know I shouldn't because these are all beloved children of God. But frankly they are not acting like it. They have taken prejudice, militarism, sexism, nationalism, and fear of the other to new extremes that leave me wanting to singing American Idiot.

Don't wanna be an American idiot.
Don't want a nation under the new mania
And can you hear the sound of hysteria?
The subliminal *&%*$#@* America.
Welcome to a new kind of tension.
All across the alienation.
Where everything isn't meant to be okay.
Television dreams of tomorrow.
We're not the ones who're meant to follow.
For that's enough to argue.
Well maybe I'm the faggot America.
I'm not a part of a redneck agenda.
Now everybody do the propaganda.
And sing along to the age of paranoia.

As I continue to watch the unfolding racism - and I sing.  As bathrooms become an issue - I sing. As a man with a gun shoots - I sing.

Then I started studying the scripture I was preaching on and bam right upside the head was Jesus and his parable.
25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:25-37.
So there is Jesus being asked how do I inherit eternal life? Being very Socratic he asks a question instead of answering directly what does the word say. And the man recites the Shema: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself." There I am being unkind. Singing a song that looks around at the world and sings I don't want to be that. And then here are the words of faith my preacher father tells me are the words, the ones we are to guide and direct our lives by. These are the words my dad when asked about faith spoke to us again and again and again. He told us this it what we are to be and do. And yet there I am singing, I don't want to be an American Idiot.

But does Jesus stop there in making the scripture come to life in my world. No. The man in the story didn't like that answer either, so he asked another question to get him out of the impact of those words on his life. "Who is my neighbor?' Jesus this time answer with a story. He tells a parable. There was a Syrian refuge, a Mexican immigrant, a Black Lives Matter protestor at a a presidential rally.  Because of their skin color, their country of origin, their religion. Some of the crowd turned on them and beat them, hit them, stomped on them and left them for dead. Then a pastor walked by because there is just so much pain and I don't have any cash in my wallet to help this time. Then a Bernie Bro walked by and was in such a hurry to get to the protest he didn't even look down at his feet to see the one who needed him. Then a Orange man supporter was running late to meet his friend who were all going to the rally to here the truth, to make America Great Again. This supporter saw the one who was hurt and dialed 911. He said where he was. He touched the one who was hurt waiting there for the police and the ambulance to show. He spoke to the injured and talked about his life and kept asking the injured to hang on. He started to pray for them. He stayed with them until they were placed on the ambulance. He gave them his card and said if you need anything, really I will be there to help. In his American Flag t'shirt and his make America great again hat he rejoined his friends.

Who was the neighbor? Jesus likes to tell us stories. He does this because if we don't have the time or ability to go deep, we can get a message. So the standard message of this story is be kind. When you see someone in need of medical assistance provide it. When you see someone hurt contribute to their healing. Provide money for their care and bandage their wounds. But Jesus also tells us that we won't always get the full meaning of the parable. We won't always be able to hear and understand. Sometime it will take a while, a long while for the meaning to become clear. That there is a deeper message that we can't always experience or understand.

As I was singing my song, I realized that Jesus was inviting us to learn from our enemies. The Samaritan was the despised one for the crowd listening to Jesus. They were the enemies to be made fun of, to be derided and jeered. Yet Jesus says learn from them, be them. There is something they can teach you. Now I wish I could say to you I know what I am supposed to learn from the people I have been singing to. I wish I could say this is what I have gotten from them. But what I was reminded of is that whoever I have cast in the role of outsider, enemy, idiot - God looks at that person and sees a beloved, a child of God, someone on this same mixed up journey of life. And when God looks with love how can I do any less.

Variations on the sermon given on May 22, 2016.