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September 24, 2017, 12:00 AM

The Fairness of All Receiving the Same


We have an interesting parable from Jesus this morning. We have people hired through the course of the day. As the day went along and the land owner saw people who were not working he would ask why. The people who said to the landowner that they were not working because no one had hired them were then hired and sent to the field. At the end of the day the workers were brought in to get their days wages. Those hired last were paid first and they were each given one days wages. We are not told if this was pre-agreed, all we are told is that they received a day’s wages. That is a great thing for these people because they were not short at the end of the day.

In an interesting side note, I have never read in the bible about an hourly wage. The wage for one day at that time was however apparently standardized at one Denarius, which was a silver coin. That silver coin is about 1/10 of one ounce of silver and so at today's value would be about $1.71. I have read different calculations but one that caught my attention related to inflation, etc. suggested it would probably be about $72.50/day and we might assume a ten hour day and so today it would be about $7.25 per hour. Any calculation I have read did not indicate these people were getting rich.

But we digress and so those watching who had been working longer than these others were watching this happen because they were being paid last. Seeing that those who worked part of the day got the wages for the whole day those who had worked the whole day assume they would get even more. As it came to their turn they still got the wages of one day. Totally unfair they cry, were we not here the whole day and those people were here only part of the day, how can you pay us the same thing.

Now from a management standpoint I would say the land owner made one mistake. He should have paid those who came to work earlier in the day first. After all they had been there first so they should be paid first. Had the land owner done this he could have avoided all of the drama because those who were complaining would likely have taken their pay and headed home and never would have seen what the land owner did with those who had only worked part of the day. We could also talk about the violation of paying in private so no one knows what the other makes, which usually does not work because then people go home and compare checks any ways. Finally, I suppose that modern management methods would not have helped Jesus make his point.

Jesus told this story as a parable. The land owner when the others did not get paid more than one days wage and when they complained that they deserved more since they worked longer, simply asks whether they got what they had agreed to. It would be like you saying to your boss, “Don't you think my check is short, I worked more hours that Fred and our checks are the same.” Your boss would then ask if you were paid for all the hours you worked and if you had gotten paid the agreed hourly rate and when you said yes you were paid for all your time and at the agreed hourly rate, your boss would simply ask how is that unfair, I compensated you according to our agreement. You might still however feel that more hours of the same work should lead to more pay but you would have to concede that you could not demand more.

Jesus then does an interesting thing with this parable. Jesus says this parable is a way of explaining how the kingdom of heaven operates. Those who are baptized as infants will receive salvation and those who are baptized one minute before they die will receive salvation. And we might cry unfair but then did not both get what was promised.

So, let us talk about fair for just a moment. There are different ways to deal with being fair and an argument is being made that the above is fair. Everyone walks away with the same thing. Everyone walks away with what they need. But then these two can look different. Consider a parent with two children. One way of being fair is to make sure both children have the same things. Maybe you make sure they each get a new bicycle and a new game and a used car at the appropriate age. Both children have been given the same things or the same things at the same stage in life and so we would all say that they. the children, had been treated fairly. There is however another method. Some parents chose to make sure that each child has what they need and want. So one child gets dance lessons and the other gets Karate, one child gets a new bicycle and the other gets new skis because children are different. One would likely also say that these children had been treated fairly. The reality is that given limited resources making sure one had ballet lessons and one had ski, which might take very different levels of resources might be fair as well. If there are limited resources sometimes the fairest answer is to go around first and make sure each has what they need and/or is first on their list thus rotating through fulfillment. In other words in this final method, when we receive resources we help child one and then when there are resources again we help child two. Now admittedly this is what happens when there are limited resources and some of you may not relate because there has always been plenty to make sure both children had skis and bicycles so they each got what the other did and both got what one of them might have needed given their particular interests. This is a method of being fair when resources are plentiful. My point really is to suggest that there are different ways of being fair.

And yet again I digress. Today's story is timely however. In today's story we are being told that it is not unfair for God to make sure all have the opportunity to receive salvation. It is not unfair that some will spend their entire lives in this space and others will only get it at the end. In this case each has received what they need and what is promised and thus it is for God to do. And that being said we are going to come to the baptismal font today and bring two more members into the family. Today we are going to bring two children to the baptismal font and they will be granted the gifts that come with it. They will receive that forgiveness that justifies us and thus make us righteous or right with God and ensures we will spend eternity in God's care and presence. These children will receive the accompaniment in this life of the Holy Spirit. These children will receive for a life time what we have already received, the promises of baptism. And so in this case I welcome God's justice and sense of fairness that makes this available to all of us here today and anytime we are ready to embrace and receive it, Amen.

September 17, 2017, 12:00 AM

Where was God in Irma?

Once again, I am sorry to say, I have the opportunity to speak after a natural disaster. This one named Irma was by many accounts not as bad as it might have been. We are certainly thankful that we did not take a direct hit with a category four hurricane. We however don't enjoy the electricity being out or the clean up necessary because of the trees. I hope that we do not have another hurricane in the short run because as I remember from when lived in North Carolina we saw the second smallish not very powerful hurricane and thought “Meah, we did fine in the first” and yet failed to calculate that the ground was now saturated and thus soft and so trees would be blowing over much more easily. So I suggest we take nothing for granted but what about theology around natural disasters.

It is very tempting to look at the damage done and ask why did God sent this here and yet I think God did not send this here and neither did God send it elsewhere. I have personally born witness to hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, crippling snow storms, hail storms and floods. Some of these don't even make the biblical lists because the biblical lists were formed in what is modern Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Egypt. Actually, my children have this theory that there is the Robison bubble, we will be fine the logic goes because we are always fine because for some reason we seem to live in this protected space during natural disasters and yet the implications of that are challenging. Yet somehow if you told me that God honored the prayers for individual peoples safety I can read the bible and see that happening at moments and so at least say yes that is possible. So, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent God can protect you and MAY or MIGHT choose to protect you or me or another individual but I would not want to rest on it to much since there are certainly worthy candidates for miracles, who have plenty of people praying for them who are not cured. Some of them are those I know who sit among us or have been taken from our midst. So, even personal miracles, while definitely possible and to which I have born witness, I will not claim to fully understand the logic behind the choice of this one and not that one.

Let us zoom out though for a moment and consider whether God choose to send an Earthquake to Ecuador, or Sandy to Long Island, NY City and New Jersey, or  not to send Irma to Miami.

First I want to look at Elijah. Elijah went to the mountain to seek out the wisdom of God. And we read that there was a wind so strong it split rocks, and then an earthquake and finally fire and the Lord was not in any of these. God was in the silence that followed. Look around you and you will see that God was not in the hurricane but was in the little acts that helped to keep others safe during the hurricane and more so in the rebuilt, refreshed and strengthened community that is coming together to help clean up after the storm. God has been in the silence, which followed. God is in the acts of generosity as I read on Facebook that people are taking their unneeded water to those who have a boil alert or a still stuck in shelters. Some are opening their homes to those who have no Air Conditioning.

The problem is that if God spared us, then God pronounced judgment on areas North West of here, which were struck by the hurricane, and then God certainly was pronouncing judgment on St Martin and the other islands, some of which saw 90% or more of the homes left uninhabitable. What has St Martin, the peaceable Island nation done to deserve starting over again that we have not done right here in Miami. And all of this ignores the lesson of Sodom and Gomorrah where God says that he will spare the entire city if he can find a few righteous people. Certainly in each of these places there was at least a handful of people who were God fearing men and women and thus if God were in the business of using natural disasters to pronounce judgment, God would have to have spared them for the sake of the righteous.

Now consider the story of Jonah. Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh because he knew they would repent and be spared the catastrophe that God had planned. And we read in the Bible of people being spared at moments for their positive action. And so you counter what about the story of Noah, does that not show God's judgment on people. Well actually the judgment is more squarely on the sons of God than humans, and since it is a text of sacred Jewish origin, I look to the Rabbis and their interpretation and that is not how they use this story. In Jewish tradition they are more often critical of Noah and his inaction. Sure he follows what God asks, sure he always does what God asks, but he never takes initiative on his own,  he does not open the door when he knows the water is gone until God says hey Noah you need to open the door. He has not done anything wrong because he has not take any personal initiative. Then the Rabbis also point out that the final point to this story is not the judgment but the opportunity to rebuild community in the manner that God would love to have it. Noah is far to passive according to the Rabbis and the point of the story is the opportunity to rebuild community in Jewish circles.

Let us get even simpler for a moment. If God is Love and God is about the business of Justice and Mercy, did the Florida Keys do anything, did the people on the Islands in the Caribbean, did any group of people who suffered more than we did here do anything that is not being done here and did any of those places lack a few righteous people. I say no, those thing are not true and thus if God is Just and Merciful and Loving, God did not steer the hurricane to ensure whom it hit and whom it missed.

I would like to take on one last bit of bad theology this morning. And I am in the process of learning myself so this was one I learned only this week. Many preachers rely on the signs of the end times listed in Matthew 24 where we read, “Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. Then he asked them, ‘You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’ When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” and then Jesus goes on to talk about all of the bad things that will happen but says this will all happen in their lifetimes. All of this was supposed to happen in the lifetimes of those he was speaking to and thus the reference to these end times indicators is only valid for the temple on the mount that was destroyed in 70 CE about 35 years after Jesus' own death. So no the hurricane, the earthquake, the hail storm, the whatever natural disaster I have born witness to is not a sign of the end times. And if they were then we have been in the end times since Jesus roamed the earth and now is not different from earlier.

So, what can we learn from a hurricane that does so much damage. Let us start with the question of what have you seen that was praise worthy and good. If God is Love, then those things which show love would be good first places to look. Look to the acts of generosity with people giving away ice, food, water and places to stay cool in the face of tremendous heat and a lack of air conditioning. Look at the hearts that are in a generous and community minded mode, like the parents from our Learning Center that even as they were already hot and sweaty took the chain saw out of back of the truck to cut up one more tree, the one in our playground that had split and needed cut up. I think that like Elijah we are seeing God in the silence which follows the disaster as peoples hearts are melted and turned toward the things of God. I see God at work in the ones who come together and work as a community. I see God in having a cup of coffee with Pastor Medley from the Methodist Church to see how we can help each other. I see God in the people that have checked on me and others to make sure they were ok. I see God in the people who are supporting each of us in our moment of need. I see God in the prayers of the people of Guyana lifted up for me and everyone here. I see God in the pastor from Long Island, who worked along side me after Sandy who called up to form a partnership with this congregation to channel prayers and relief to the people of South Florida.

I see God in so many places during and especially after Irma and all of them showcase the best of humanity. So, keep up the good work as the hands and feet of Christ in the world. The Kingdom of God has come near this day for everyone you meet and do good for. The prayer, “on earth as it is in heaven,” is answered a little every time you show love to your neighbor. Every time you choose love a little light is shown in the darkness and witness is born to the God we know and love. And so I invite you to reflect on where you have been the hands and feet of God this past week, how you might be the hands and feet of God in the week to come and where you have seen God at work.


September 3, 2017, 12:00 AM

Overcoming Evil with Good

Sometimes we wonder what does God want us to do? Sometimes we think and ask how would God do this? Sometimes, we read the bible and we find out that what God wants us to do and how God would do things is pretty clearly spelled out. Today's epistle reading is one of those moments when it is pretty clear.

Last week we read,

“I appeal to you therefore, ... to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, .... Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Immediately after this is the part I talked about in my children's sermon where there are different gifts and only when we hold all of us together with each of our gifts are we able to be whole. And then we get this little gem, this little morsel, which lays out Christian behavior according to Paul in clear and uncertain terms.

So Paul starts with, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;” So, we might argue about what love or evil or good looks like but it is clear that we are to be people of love and that we are people who need to be about that which is good and if we hate what is evil then evil is something we are to stay away from. And yet is this not consistent with who we know God to be: God is a God of Love, God loves the good and hates the evil and so Paul is simply suggesting that we use the very filter of who we know God to be at the most basic level to filter our lives.

Let us continue, “love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” So, here we need to stop for a moment and acknowledge that there are different kinds of love. There is the love of that burns hot and cold and brings us together to pair off with another and form exclusive relationships. Then there is the love based in friendship, the sort of feelings you have for your BFF. The love which gives us the term philadelphia, which can be translated brotherly love. This love for the other, who is our family, is what Paul refers to here, so we are to love one another. But, this is not to be a one way relationship, instead we are all to adopt this and so it becomes mutual. What I will remind you however is that even in a mutual relationship, one person often has to take the first step and so we are to live in love for one another and then we get this put the other first clause, “outdoing each other in showing honor.” Lift up the other person do not put them down. Point out that which the other is doing well and don't worry that you get the credit. And lets face it if we lived in a community that expressed Mutuality and Love that was about lifting up what the other did well, how attractive would that be to new people.

The next three are pretty simple but need to be observed, “Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.” Of course I say that and then realize that I can't remember the last time I heard someone use the world ardent. It is a term referring to passion for. So have zeal and passion in spirit and serve the Lord.

And thus what follows should suggest what we can do to serve God. Thus serving God must mean, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” Rejoice in hope is easy enough but remember hope is based on our faith not our sight. Persevere in prayer is maybe the next easiest on the list and is only difficult at moments because of the distractions of life and then we have the “be patient in suffering” and lets face it when we are suffering we want nothing more than for it to be over and yet there is something redemptive in going through that which make us suffer, especially when we are suffering for the sake of our faith and others are watching us, because they see we are willing to suffer if that is what it takes, and thus will find our faith much more compelling. Faith willing to suffer for the sake of the gospel is more attractive than the seed falling on shallow ground. When your faith supports you in your hour of need, those around you who are suffering may just be evangelized without you ever saying a single word.

The next two are simple enough. We read, “Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” These are simple but I am also reminded that at moments when contribute means doing without the luxury that I am used to we may not want to even though a Godly life demands it. I am also reminded that the unknown is that which scares us and so while doing for the stranger is simple it is not always easy because it requires us to go against what are often pretty basic instincts of staying away from that which we do not know.

And then immediately after hospitality for the stranger is, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” We have moved from friend to stranger and now to the one who persecutes us. This offering of a blessing on those who stand against us runs counter to our natural instinct but gets to the core of living in love. If we are to live in love for all then that means those who love us and those who are against us. I have heard it said that if you ever need to melt your own heart start praying for the one whom you have something against, because it is hard to stay mad at those whom we are praying for.

The next pairing is again simple, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” but it also implies that we take the time to be with others and to understand them and to care for them and to have empathy for them and remember that this comes at the tail end of that which is about the stranger and so rejoice and weep with your friends, your sisters and brothers in Christ, your family and the stranger.

It also seems like it ought not be hard to, “Live in harmony with one another;” but lets face it, when they do us wrong and we want our pound of flesh doing that which creates harmony is not the first thing on our mind and so this is a good reminder. Next we read “do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;” First let me say that haughty is again one of those word I have not recently heard used but means arrogantly superior and thus is not good at breading the harmony we have just been instructed to embrace and live in. And then there is that clause that makes explicit that we are to associate with the lowly. NOT only can we not be arrogant in our superiority or exact our pound of flesh from our equal but we are to be intentional in our making space for anyone we might think of a lesser than ourselves. Of course in spending time with them they become people and even dare I say friends and thus people we care for and even understand.

It continues with, “do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.” Again sometimes counter to what we think naturally. When we see that another is doing that which is evil we might feel justified in returning that which is evil and yet if we want to transform the world we need to act differently from the world. The clearest example I have ever seen is the Amish community that forgave and then embraced and thus changed the life of the person who came into their school room and killed a number of their children. Talk about counter to our basic make up and yet it was about transforming the world we live in to conform with the image of God and thus they did what a loving God would do not what the inner parent screamed must be done to avenge the death of their children. And so do not repay evil for evil and be careful when you think what you seek is justice and look for ways to transform the situation and show a better way.

And then there is this little gem at the end that provides for me the justification to do all of that, which is listed above, even when it does not make sense to me.

“If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

There are a number of gems in here but let us start at the top. “So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” This simple statement runs so deep in so many ways. It acknowledges that others may not want to embrace this peaceable way and implies that we may suffer at moments at the hands of those who are not yet where we are but that we are responsible for our actions and that our actions should be those that create peaceful living conditions.

Then we read, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”” You see because we are to leave the question of exacting justice to God. Think about it we are to NEVER avenge ourselves. Never is a big word and certainly a little something against those who are not fair to us or who harm us must be ok, right. No because the only one who has the privilege of vengeance is God.

And the other way is, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” So, if you need satisfaction take it in knowing that the way you treat those who treat you will help to convict them. If someone takes a cookie and you turn to them and give them a whole lunch with the loving statement that you did not realize they were hungry, it will likely burn inside them and you will not need to seek vengeance because they will take it out on themselves. That is why what the Amish did worked and in anti violence training one of the things you learn us to unsettle the other you do that which they don't expect. They puff up their chest and you give them a kiss on the cheek and they are suddenly disarmed. If you have never seen it this is one of the strong themes of Les Miserables. A fictional bishop redeems a thief by refusing to say he stole but instead giving the thief even more. So doing that which is unexpected and treating those who have done you wrong with nothing but love and kindness may be counter to intuition but it is ever so satisfying and right in the eyes of God.

And if all of this seems difficult remember the statement in there that sounds and awful lot like karma when it says for doing this will be like heaping coals in their head. So, if you do it for no other reason, do it because you know they will get their due and that by repaying evil with good it will eat most people up from the inside. And so we close with, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” And I will simply repeat that and let is stand on its own. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

August 20, 2017, 12:00 AM

Love Means Justice

We have protestors and counter protestors. We have great debates about who are the oppressed and who the oppressor with anyone who is not getting their way calling themselves the oppressed. We have political intrigue and jockeying for position to put my interest at the top of the agenda. The social and political comings and goings of this week, sparked in some way by the domestic terrorism of last week, have been to say the least interesting.

Headlines this week have included how many KKK and NeoNazi rallies were planned and then we have the planned Free Speech rallies and then we have hordes of people descending on the Free Speech rallies and overwhelming them. I am struck by the reality that this week I saw a Martin Niemöller poem quoted in the news. People are starting to talk and that is good but in so much as it is because they are scared that is worrisome. I saw an article by a young man raised in the South talking about being raised in a culture that not so much overtly taught but just which was infused with speaking of the evils of the north and the thought that the south will rise again and that this tied to the belief in white supremacy. I saw a video by three holocaust survivors talking about the parallels between our current time in this country and early Nazi Germany. We have seen a shakeup at the White House and the member party of the President distancing themselves from the President. To the extent that this represents a collective reemergence of a dialogue about what it means to be a citizen of the United States this is good. And to steal a phrase, What Would Jesus Do?

In today’s Gospel lesson we see Jesus healing a Samaritan woman’s daughter. This was an interesting story because there is a bit of back and forth between the woman and Jesus. You see the people that Jesus is descended from and the people that the woman and thus her daughter as descended from are mortal enemies. Jesus initially said no and yet, and here is where I am projecting my beliefs on the story because we are not told what happened in Jesus’ head, and yet Jesus comes to understand that both races, cultures or nationalities if you prefer were made by and thus children of God ultimately and thus should receive this blessing of healing.

You know what really stuck me about the news this week. No, it was not the few people killed by a terrorist in Spain, which was tragic and well covered. It was not the two people killed in Finland by a knife wielding crazy person. What really struck me is how far down you had to go to find the stories of the mud slides in Sierra Leon and the Five Hundred, known dead and Five Hundred missing and likely dead persons. And yet this story is in some ways connected to the stories of the week in this country.

The Mudslide tragedy happened in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The name Freetown comes because this city was founded in part by freed American slaves. It is poor and poorly built and thus subject to big problems when there are big rains or other natural disasters. And that tends to be the plight of the poor of this world, they live in places that others have rejected, often rejected for good reasons. The poor of the world tend to live in buildings that are not placed well because they have not paid for the engineers to ensure they are reinforced or the engineers who can tell them when it is time to get out because of the instability of the hillside, if they even had another place to go.

So, this tremendous loss of life happened in a poor and poorly developed country, established as a place for freed slaves from the United States and yet what has that to do with us today. Are we any more responsible for this than we are for the plight of the descendants of the slaves who live in this country and suffer from generational poverty that can be linked to being freed without restitution or a means of support? Surely we cannot be held liable for the mistakes of our great great grandparents. What would the bible have to say about this?

In our Old Testament lesson today we read:

“Thus says the Lord:

  Maintain justice, and do what is right,

 for soon my salvation will come,

  and my deliverance be revealed.

So, we want to do that which is right in the sight of the Lord and if you need motivation to do what is right remember that the Lord will return. What does it mean to do right in the sigh of the Lord well here and elsewhere we read that it means Maintaining Justice. It is not that we are responsible because it was the doing of our great great grandparents but that we as the people of God are to work to make sure that the cause of Justice is served and over and over and over again in the bible the cause of Justice is the care of those who are poor, giving people who historically have done poorly resources to improve their lot in life, and not taking advantage of those who are having problems. And so some of us would argue the plight of those who are poor over the generations in this country are our problem and deserve our attention and should receive an extra hand up, especially if we have the opportunity to right a historic wrong.

Certainly though those people over there, they are not my problem, we might want to say and yet the text goes on to say

 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,

  to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,

  and to be his servants,

 all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,

  and hold fast my covenant—

 these I will bring to my holy mountain,

  and make them joyful in my house of prayer;

 their burnt offerings and their sacrifices

  will be accepted on my altar;

 for my house shall be called a house of prayer

  for all peoples.

And so we learn that the people of Sierra Leone are our brothers and sisters as are all of God’s children meaning all of those people God created and thus all people. And so, we are to look as well and see if there are ways that we can help people to resolve their current problem as well as create situations long term where they can live in peace as we know what it means to live in peace.

You may or may not have noticed that I have yet to talk about the mudslide which killed a couple hundred people in the Congo, or the seven people killed in a hospital in Guatemala City. The deaths in Guatemala interestingly does have ties to the us because the gunmen were part of MS13 which started as a gang in LA and then was reverse exported to Central America through felons being deported back to their home country and thus is partly our creation. Of course I am probably biased when it comes to this news story because as I was reading it I saw the pictures and realized that I have been to that hospital to tour it. I have also ignored the massacre in the prison in Venezuela because there is only so much one can deal with in one week.

It was a busy week for the news and presented a challenge even for I who spend no more than a few minutes most days looking at the news. There are many problems in the world and certainly we need to consider the cause of Justice in each and at a minimum how our conversation with our neighbor will affect the equation in the longer term. We also need to be aware that all of these “other” people were known before they were in the womb by the same maker and creator who foreknew us as well. If Jesus can learn to care for the one he initially did not feel led to help then certainly we can as well. So, I will close with this thought today. Ours is a God of Love. Our God is Love. Therefore, if we worship and follow a God, who is most simply defined as Love, then our actions should reflect love and so each day I invite you, at the end of the day to ask whether your actions reflected love. I invite you as the day goes along and you have a moment to pause to ask whether your actions now and in the immediate reflect love. I invite you as the day goes along also though to remember that you are loved by this same God who is asking you to reflect that love into a world very much in need, remembering that often love looks like justice.

August 13, 2017, 12:00 AM

On Racism and Hatred

My Heart is heavy as I write this message. I want to find a message of care and love and support for a society that seems to be coming apart at the seams. I want to find ways to embrace all who come and sit here this morning, even as another part of my head is raging against what I have seen as the evils of this world. I know that whatever the news of the week one thing that has not and will not change is salvation through Christ and so there is a temptation not to address the news of the week but that would not be true to what I am feeling led by the Holy Spirit to speak about this morning.

Yesterday there was one person killed and 19 people injured in an act of domestic terrorism. Yesterday a group of people gathered to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E Lee. Another group gathered to support the removal of what they view as a symbol of slavery and the evils of a time they would like to think of as “in the past.” I think, Robert E Lee has for some, now represent by those who gathered to protest the removal, become a symbol as much of a way of life as for any military campaigns he may have led. Those who gathered, many of them sense an existential threat to themselves and their way of being and yet when this leads them to commit violence against another human being or to label an entire group of humans who are somehow different from them as bad, we are compelled to call them out. We gathered this morning as followers of Christ are commanded to treat the other as we would want to be treated and to love our neighbor as ourselves and so our faith compels us to call out those who commit or promote violence against others as evil.

Tensions are high in this country as a variety of people with differing viewpoints jockey to make sure that their “way of being” is preserved and available, at a minimum for so long as they are alive. This has been fertile soil at moments for groups like the KKK and the Neo-Nazi’s who suggest that violence is the only way to preserve what some of these people value because in fact diversity is the evil, which is robbing them of what they value. And yet we as Christians are compelled to say no, this is leading people to commit violence against other people and we serve a God of love. A person who we know very little about at this point in the game decided to drive his car into a group of people who were present to voice their opposition to the opinion of those who were protesting the removal of the statue. One person was killed and nineteen more were injured some very badly. Unfortunately, the use of a vehicle as a weapon of mass destruction has become all too common in the world of terrorism. Unfortunately, people whipped into a state of fervor to protect their way of being are not thinking about the golden rule and this leads them to commit violence against other people and that is evil and thus those groups and their leaders must be condemned for the evil they have propagated, even as the individuals are called to account for the evil they have done.

A number of years ago, when trying to deal with some anger issues, I started to study my own outbursts. In my self-study I realized that my anger almost always came out of frustration. Frustration would build and build and build and eventually the energy from that frustration would exceed my capacity to cope and it would come out as anger. Unfortunately, by the time I get to anger, I am not thinking straight and certainly not out of my higher mind and thus I tend to react with some level of violence. Many of those gathered were probably simply frustrated that they and their children and grandchildren are less and less able to live in the way they find meaningful. People like David Duke and the organizations they lead channel that frustration, provide a focal point for that frustration, an object if you will upon which to focus that anger. If you are so frustrated to the point of anger and not thinking straight it does not matter that the object is in fact a person, you don’t see the person only the object and you want to remove the object causing your frustration. The evil of the KKK and Neo-Nazis needs to be called for what it is and that is the objectification of people at its simplest.

I want to tell the story of a friend of mine from Erie, Pennsylvania. I met him in college. His father worked for General Electric, in the plant, which built locomotives. His father was lucky in that he managed to retire before downsizing took his job. I know others who were laid off and never called back up before they were ready to retire. My friend ended up working as a police officer in another part of the state and was married to a young lady from Erie. This was a happy and hopeful time in his life.

Through a series of mishaps including an injury to him and a divorce, which put his child back in Erie and the loss of his job he ended up back living at home in Erie himself, out of work and largely broke. He tried and tried and tried for years to find a way to support himself and no matter how hard he tried he could not manage to get a steady pay check. What he really wanted was enough money to live in Erie and help raise his son. He eventually married a lady who had managed to become a restaurant manager and could keep them afloat. He and his family were in the upper levels of blue collar workers. People, who could support a family, buy a house and own a decent car as fruits of their labors in years gone by. He has become, out of the frustration of still over ten years later being largely unemployed in spite of constant job retraining, and maybe because the retraining now leaves him “over qualified” for everything that might actually be of interest, one of those who simply seethes hate born of frustration and is looking for a way to vent that frustration.

In this need to vent frustration, he has become an extremist who is ready to take down whatever or whoever might have led him to this position. And in so many ways this is the outgrowth of him wanting what seemed like the reasonable proposition, a life style equal to or better than his parents, doing a similar sort and kind of work. And yet the things he posts on Facebook are so hate filled that I have had to remove it from my feed, even as much of it is simply looking for a person to hear his pain and offer a solution.

Unfortunately, I personally don’t have a solution for him in the real sense and others who proffer hate and peddle evil say they do have an answer for him and he so wants a solution that he buys into what they are selling, even when logic would argue what they are suggesting is not possible. And since his frustration has led to anger he is not able to hear anything other than I have a solution to your pain. And so this friend who once was a great debate partner, when filled with hope, has become one of the most racist and hate filled people I know, espousing positions that I am compelled to call out as evil.

And that is where the church can come in if it is willing to. There are two things that the church must do. One it must call out the evils of the world as the evils that they are but it also must be part of that which offers hope and a different vision of the world. This is a vision not all will want because we cannot fix the jobs crisis in this world but we can help people who have less to pool their resources and live better. We cannot give everyone a job that will give them a life equal to or better than in material terms but we can show them, whatever their level of material success, a life that is filled with meaning and purpose. We cannot solve all their material problems but we could once again be the vehicle for social and societal change and the vehicle to help us all understand that we are interdependent and thus the solutions are not individualistic but communal. Maybe we could even learn how to start to diffuse their anger and help them to hear again. Maybe then we could answer their sense of existential threat.  Maybe then they could hear the gospel message of love and forgiveness we offer. Maybe then we could be that vehicle which is not complicit but instead part of the solution.

Our gospel text today shows Peter walking out onto the water to meet Jesus. SO long as he hold onto that faith, that hope that Jesus represents even this seemingly impossible is possible. We to are called by Jesus out into the seemingly impossible but if we will maintain our sight on Jesus it is possible. And this week the possible from the impossible is learning to turn hate and anger into love. And if there was ever and organization that ought to be able to do that it would be the church which serves a God we know to be love. The road is long and arduous but we take it nourished by the bread of life. Come to the table and receive forgiveness for all you might have done wrong so that you as the church can go out into the world in boldness of faith calling out the evil you see and offering hope to replace it.

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