"The Spirit in Community"

Rev. Laura Young
Summit on 16th UMC
July 16, 2017
Pentecost 6A
Rom. 8:1-11

Let us pray: God, you sent the Holy Spirit to blow through this place and through each of our lives; let us hear a word from you this morning so we may better live in community with one another and with you. Amen.

Life in the Spirit – Romans 8:1-11

8 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit[a] of life in Christ Jesus has set you[b] free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin,[c] he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.[d] 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit[e] set their minds on the things of the Spirit.[f] 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit[g] is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit,[h] since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit[i] is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ[j] from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through[k] his Spirit that dwells in you.

This ends our scripture reading.

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All week, this passage just sounded to me like a bunch of platitudes. I was finding little meaning in things I had seen on plaques. Hundreds of sermons have been produced on each line.

But then I read (in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary on Romans) that this passage was the backbone of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata, “Jesu, Meine Freude,” – Jesus, My Joy. I listened to the music as I read the translation from the German text, words written in 1650 by Johann Franck to supplement some of Bach’s words and this music.

I was reading this during the wild thunder and lightning storm Thursday evening… Frankly, these words seemed a little “Song of Songs….” – like a divine romance…. The lenses through which we view things, you know…. :) I’ll read you a few excerpts:

German Text (verses in bold print set by Bach)

English Translation

1

Jesu, meine Freude,
Meines Herzens Weide,
Jesu, meine Zier,
Ach wie lang, ach lange
Ist dem Herzen bange
Und verlangt nach dir!
Gottes Lamm, mein Bräutigam,
Außer dir soll mir auf Erden
Nichts sonst Liebers werden.

Jesus, my joy,
pasture of my heart,
Jesus, my adornment
ah how long, how long
is my heart filled with anxiety
and longing for you!
Lamb of God, my bridegroom,
apart from you on the earth
there is nothing dearer to me.

2

Unter deinem Schirmen
Bin ich vor den Stürmen
Aller Feinde frei.
Laß den Satan wittern,
Laß den Feind erbittern,
Mir steht Jesus bei.
Ob es itzt gleich kracht und blitzt,
Ob gleich Sünd und Hölle schrecken:
Jesus will mich decken.

Beneath your protection
I am free from the attacks
of all my enemies.
Let Satan track me down,
let my enemy be exasperated –
Jesus stands by me.

Even if there is thunder and lightning,
even if sin and hell spread terror
Jesus will protect me .

3

Trotz dem alten Drachen,
Trotz des Todes Rachen,
Trotz der Furcht darzu!
Tobe, Welt, und springe,
Ich steh hier und singe
In gar sichrer Ruh.
Gottes Macht hält mich in acht;
Erd und Abgrund muss verstummen,
Ob sie noch so brummen.

I defy the old dragon,
I defy the jaws of death,
I defy fear as well!
Rage, World, and spring to attack:
I stand here and sing
in secure peace.
God’s might takes care of me;
earth and abyss must fall silent,
however much they rumble on.

4

Weg mit allen Schätzen!
Du bist mein Ergötzen,
Jesu, meine Lust !
Weg ihr eitlen Ehren,
Ich mag euch nicht hören,
Bleibt mir unbewusst!
Elend, Not, Kreuz, Schmach und Tod
Soll mich, ob ich viel muss leiden,
Nicht von Jesu scheiden.

Away with all treasures!
You are my delight,
Jesus, my joy!
Away with empty honours,
I’m not going to listen to you,
remain unknown to me!

Misery, distress, affliction, disgrace and death,
even if I must endure much suffering,
will not separate me from Jesus.

5

Gute Nacht, o Wesen,
Das die Welt erlesen,
Mir gefällst du nicht.
Gute Nacht, ihr Sünden,
Bleibet weit dahinten,
Kommt nicht mehr ans Licht!
Gute Nacht, du Stolz und Pracht!
Dir sei ganz, du Lasterleben,
Gute Nacht gegeben.

Good night, existence
chosen by the world,
you do not please me.
Good night , you sins,
stay far behind me.
Come no more to the light1
Good night , pride and splendour,
once and for all, sinful existence,
I bid you good night.

6

Weicht, ihr Trauergeister,
Denn mein Freudenmeister,
Jesus, tritt herein.
Denen, die Gott lieben,
Muß auch ihr Betrüben
Lauter Zucker sein.
Duld ich schon hier Spott und Hohn,
Dennoch bleibst du auch im Leide,
Jesu, meine Freude.

Go away, mournful spirits,
for my joyful master,
Jesus, now enters in.
For those who love God
even their afflictions
become pure sweetness.

Even if here I must endure shame and disgrace,
even in suffering you remain,

Jesus, my joy

This ends the text of the cantata.

So, followers of Jesus are no longer controlled by sin! Joy! We are no longer obliged to the law. We are under a new condition, thanks to the work of God done in Christ Jesus. But, what does that mean?

First, what about all this “sinful flesh” talk? It makes me a little nervous when I think this kind of anti-flesh talk could be used to cause us to disassociate from the body, which is not good, particularly for people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, plus. After all, Jesus was made flesh and dwelled among us. How bad could flesh be? God chose to come in fleshly form to demonstrate to us how to love God and each other!

But the flesh that Paul is talking about is ‘distance from God.’ The not-closeness to God. The enslavement to the law that requires things that end up resulting in a Golden Calf situation: idol worship. Remember the Golden Calf story in Exodus that demonstrated unfaithfulness to God?

The people felt that Moses had been gone too long – he had gone up on the mountain to get the tablets with the 10 commandments -- and they got stressed and worried and frightened, and they turned their attention elsewhere and got attached to other things, away from God. So they ended up worshiping a Golden Calf that they had constructed, thinking that God was absent.

What are our modern-day Golden Calves that keep us from Spirit-living? What are we attached to, what are we paying attention to that keeps us living in the “flesh?” News? Media? Facebook? Twitter? What are our other Gods? Money? Security? Self-reliance? Physical appearance? Our “career” or our “career goals?” We sell our families for it, our time, our conscience, sometimes our integrity. Car? Identity politics? The Bible, political ideologies, parties, candidates? A particular prophet (like a Moses)? Religious dogma?

Rev. Dr. Susan Smith in her talk at Chautauqua Institute in New York the other day talked about at least two gods in our community: the god of creation and the god of the oppressor. She talks about the idea of two gods and two different Jesuses, based on our vastly different understanding of God and Jesus. If you haven’t listened to it, I recommend it. What about Consumerism? Capitalism?

This weekend Rev. Traci Blackmon was arrested along with Rev. William Barber of the Moral Movement in Washington, D.C., at Senator Mitch McConnell’s office. They were on a march to save Medicaid. Rev. Blackmon, recently elected executive minister of justice and witness ministries for the United Church of Christ said:

“It is time to stop calling God by other names when you really want to call God capitalism. It is time to stop cloaking your greed in religious language.” Now, you did not hear me say that capitalism in and of itself is evil. However, unchecked and immoral capitalism does not align with the teachings and example of the one we try to follow.

Living in the flesh is so human – fleshly life is: not living according to the Spirit -- and it can include feeling hopeless, depressed, overwhelmed. But life in the Spirit, that’s when we’re hope-filled, happy in God, content, patient …. We can think of the fruits of the Spirit if we need examples!

Fleshly life is when our lives are focused on things that are the opposite of the fruits of the spirit: What are the fruits of the spirit? Paul describes them in Galatians: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. “Against such things there is no law,” Paul writes.

So, we could surmise that fleshly life is anti-love, or hate, or indifference, or disvalue. Who are we disvaluing in our society? Consider Rev. Howard’s testimony.

Let’s think for a minute about the opposites of the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…starting with joy:

Anti-joy: misery, unhappiness

Anti-peace: war, conflict, hostility

Anti-forbearance: impatient

Anti-kindness: meanness, strife, cold-heartedness, hard-heartedness, inhumanity, mercilessness

Anti-goodness: badness, evil, evildoing, immorality, iniquity, sin, villainy, wickedness

Anti-faithfulness: unfaithfulness, untrue, disloyal, faithless, false, traitorous

Anti-gentleness: harshness, abrasiveness, stern, ungentle

Anti-self-control: lacking self-control, indulgent, petulant, lacking constraint.

So, if we are to live freely in community with one another, we must turn our hearts to the fruits of the spirit, and away from “fleshly living.”

What can we do this week that would help us live according to the Spirit that will help us feel close to God, close to one another, loved by God, loved by one another, loved by ourselves? Demonstrating living freely in community? When we focus on the God that raised Jesus from the dead, that kind of love that overcomes hate, that leads us to life.

Life in God, life lived free in community.

A life in community that doesn’t include “stop and frisk.” or “excessive force.”

A life in community that does not allow pepper spray of a crowd exhibiting their free speech in protest to the ruling powers.

A life in community where all schools offer high-quality education, not just in the rich neighborhoods.

A life in community where everyone has enough to eat.

A life in community where all are welcome and celebrated. This week the Wesleyan Covenant Association, which is the group of United Methodist pastors and lay people and congregations – the chair of this whole thing is Rev. Jeff Greenway at Reynoldsburg UMC, right in our own backyard -- who believe in upholding the language in the Book of Discipline that that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching – they released a statement basically saying they’re not going to wait on the Special General Commission to make a decision about human sexuality, they’re just going to move right along. Well, go on already. The United Methodist Centrists have requested a plan to unite with the progressives and just let those “traditionalists” go. That’s fine with me.

Henri Nouwen was a Dutch social-justice and community-focused Catholic priest who taught in U.S. seminaries and then worked and wrote in the L’Arche (pron. LARSH) Community in Ontario, Canada, living with mentally and physically disabled people. I’ve mentioned him several times before.

In his book “Peacework: Prayer, Resistance, Community,” and I came across something that reminded me of a post I read yesterday from Bishop Karen Oliveto, our United Methodist married lesbian bishop in Colorado.

Nouwen [Peacework, pp. 114-115] was talking about how as a community of faith, we remind each other constantly that we need to be grateful even when we suffer, even when we feel downcast, even when things only seem to be getting worse, because we know that the world in which we suffer has already been overcome.

Reminds me of the words put to Bach’s beautiful cantata I read earlier, “Misery, distress, affliction, disgrace and death, even if I must endure much suffering, will not separate me from Jesus.”

And Christ’s victory over death – over fleshly living -- allows us to be grateful at all times and in all places. Nouwen reminds his reader that Jesus had told his disciples (as recorded in the Gospel of John, chapter 16, verse 33) that rejection and persecution would mark their lives but that their suffering would not rob them of their peace. Let’s not be robbed of our peace this week. Let’s remember that Jesus said, “In the world, you will have trouble, but be brave. I have conquered the world.”

Nouwen said that “if there is any word that should characterize the life of peacemakers, it is ‘gratitude.’ That true peacemakers are grateful people who constantly recognize and celebrate the peace of God within and among them.”

Bishop Oliveto, who I would say is a peace-making, Spirit-living prophet among us, wrote a reflection on being elected a bishop in the United Methodist Church one year ago yesterday. She described the experience as being the closest experience of Pentecost she had ever had.

As the election took place in the Western Jurisdiction’s conference, delegates and nominees for bishop were praying and she sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit.

She said that some said they in the West were drunk with new wine, but that as scripture and history show, people will tend to say that when they weren’t there and they’re trying to dismiss the movement of the Holy Spirit, seeking to make all things new.

She said they were simply trusting in God with all our hearts.

Bishop Oliveto wrote that she continues to lean into that trust as she goes about her work as bishop, as she makes appointments, bringing a voice to the table that has never been present to our common life and work. (Can you imagine if there were a bishop like Karen Oliveto leading this conference when Rev. Betty Howard was serving churches? How different her career might have turned out? That her call and her service would not have been squelched by discrimination and prejudice?)

Bishop Oliveto shared that she continues to lean into that trust as she listens to those who are angry about her election and she commits herself to remain in relationship with them. How beautiful is it to remain in relationship with those in our community with whom we disagree?

Bishop Oliveto shared that she is humbled to have been entrusted with her ministry and prayed that God’s will be done in all she says and does. She sets a beautiful example of living not in the flesh but in the Spirit…of trusting God in all things.

Let us go from this place trusting and praying that God’s will be done, in all we say and do this week.

May it be so.

 

 

"Chaos to Community"

Rev. Laura Young
July 9, 2017
Pentecost 5A
Summit on 16th UMC
Romans 7:15-25a

Let us pray: Loving and gracious God, let the words of my mouth rest in the ears of all listening so everyone hears -- through my words, or in spite of them -- that you, O God, love them.

Romans 7:13-25

13Did what is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. 15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

This ends our scripture reading.

The first time I read this passage aloud, tears rolled down my cheeks. I was reading it to my life-long best friend…someone I loved very much, years ago. This person was an addict. Dual diagnosis – bi-polar and an alcoholic. He called himself a garbage-head: basically, he ended up in such a dire place in his life that he would take any pill he could get his hand on. Even used his creativity illegally to make prescription pads so he could get what he wanted at the pharmacy when doctors would no longer prescribe him opioids.

David was a brilliant inventor and patent lawyer with a physics degree. He tried to explain string theory to me. He played the bass guitar and I accompanied the show choir on the piano in high school. He blasted Metallica into his earbuds while he read and wrote and worked and thought. He just could not quiet his mind. He drank for many years, sometimes a case or more of Pabst Blue Ribbon a day, trying to do just that.

He did the things he knew he should not do. He was at war with his members. At the age of 47, he started taking heroin, and four months later overdosed on it. It will be two years this September. Two years ago this month, he told me he was dabbling in it and I begged him to stop. But I knew he was going to do what he was going to do. The thing he knew he should not do.

And Paul knew he was going to do what he was going to do even though he didn’t want to do it.

Anyone in an AA meeting [trying to stay away from alcohol], or trying to stop eating sugar, could be saying the words Paul is writing here: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” David was living a life of chaos and it was heartbreaking to watch. And his chaotic life kept getting him pushed out of the community.

David was struggling with what you could call sin. The sin of addiction. Defining sin as something keeping you distanced from God. Paul was struggling with sin here. Process theologian Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki thinks Paul was struggling with his own homosexuality, and he might have been; we’ll never know. He was wrestling with the concept of sin, and does throughout this beautiful letter to the Romans.

We don’t like to talk about sin.

It can be particularly hard on those of us in the LGBTQ+ community because some of us have been pummeled with a lot of “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” language. Hideous.

That language is spiritual abuse, and if it’s ever been in your mind, just please flush it away right now! But, we can think of sin as the situation of human need in alienation from God. Paul is talking about a “turning away,” which leads to a corrupt moral life. Sins are symptoms of orientation with God. If we’re away from God, we are disoriented.

There are a lot of things in this world that might be making us feel disoriented. We come in here and we’ve been beaten up by news all week and maybe our family or our kids or parents or job, and we want comfort. I understand that.

We’re all in this together. Together in community.

And for Paul, we’re also ALL together under sin. Sin is not the condition of some, but it unites us all in the shared need. We are all one. Not a one of us can do this alone. Last week, Dr. Valerie Bridgeman reminded us that Jesus sent disciples out two by two and that no one went by themselves, there were no loners. We’re in this discipleship thing together. Dr. Bridgeman she called us to be a prophetic community, together.

And in our passage today, even though we know the good we should do, we are weak and we do not do it! We struggle. The struggle is real. We saw this in our community conversation last week, and sometimes we see it in a church committee meeting. It’s real for us all and we’re all under the condition of sin struggling together. Fun times! (sarcasm)

Chapter 7 of Romans is a wrenching description of human weakness. In Galatians, Paul describes humans as “biting and devouring” each other. I love that. He pulls out another list of our “works of the flesh” that humans do: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissension, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. That makes up a community full of chaos, doesn’t it?!

Paul is describing what biblical scholar and Yale professor emeritus Leander Keck calls the “deepest, and most disturbing, level of the human condition.” The passage we’re focusing on homes in on the concern about the conflicted self. The conflicts within ourselves and following from that, within our communities.

Our area United Methodist Bishop, Gregory Vaughn Palmer, throughout his episcopal address and preaching, reminded us at Annual Conference last month that problems in our communities are not going to go away by not talking about them. Steven, am I right? Steven was our delegate to annual conference.

Bishop Palmer encouraged us to act with urgency, facing the issues of the day, such as gun violence and opiate addiction, healthcare, and even the debate about homosexuality in the church – and to have conversations inside the church and with community leaders, to educate ourselves and one another.

That sounds like a way to be a prophetic community, as Dr. Valerie Bridgeman called us to be last week.

BUT HOW CAN WE BE A PROPHETIC COMMUNITY WHEN WE’RE IN CHAOS?

All of our families in the Bible had chaos; remember the Genesis text I read earlier? Our community here at Summit is going through a period of chaos. We’ve started coming out of a major budget crisis; we’ve lost four staff members – a beloved pastor, a custodian, outreach director and associate pastor; we had to make a very tough decision to create some distance between Summit and the University Area Enrichment Association’s Freedom School.

Some people are feeling like I preach about social justice too much and not enough about Jesus’s love for us – and I need to really listen to that feedback. I assure you, I am. Things are not as they always have been. We have some new people in our church family. There is a new pastor who doesn’t do things the way the old one did. And it feels a little chaotic and hectic and conflicted at times.

There are fabulous things happening at this church – and have been since the late ‘70s! Even if all the changes were good and perfect and everyone agreed, it would still be hard, because humans struggle with change, and with conflict.

And our communities show the wear and tear from all of that struggle.

Dr. Bridgeman mentioned in her sermon last weekend a podcast called “On Being” with Krista Tippett. The subject was “The spiritual work of Black Lives Matter.” Tippett was interviewing a Black Lives Matter founder, Patrisse Cullors.

An audience member who was a local minister wanted to help bring hope and healing to his community and asked Cullors what she thought he should do? Cullors said to host a community meeting about what’s going on and what needs aren’t being met, and to just sit with people and listen to what they care about most, and what they need, and take it from there. I posted it on our Facebook page yesterday.

So, you know what we’re going to do? We’re going to learn about each other and we’re going to listen to each other. We need to do it within these walls and outside of them.

We’re going to start a small group study within the church, a little microcosm of Summit, with no more than 12 people including me. Some who like the direction of the church, and some who might not. It was recommended to me Friday by Bishop Joseph Sprague, who helped found this church, as you know. (And was later brought up on heresy charges, but that’s another story!)

It is a hybrid curriculum I’m creating based on something Bishop Sprague once facilitated called “Disciples of Christ in Community.” This curriculum claims it is for people who would rather “be” the church in the world rather than “do” church – to help people discover and renew their faith, and see ways to best be the church in this community here on our corner in the university area.

The idea is to use our chaos creatively and move forward, working toward that beloved, prophetic community. And to err on the side of love, even when we want to do the thing we know we should not do, as Paul articulates so strongly here.

I’m also going to start a sort of “Sermon Shapers” Bible study or “Pastor’s Bible study” open to anyone who wants to wrestle with the texts and seek God in community through scripture – not just the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, but also other resources we might be inspired by.

We’re going to pray without ceasing. And we’re going to do all of this, and everything with love. Because love is the only way.

And it is with God’s love, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that we can overcome our very human, fleshly ways, so we can find new ways to live together – for God’s good purposes, using Jesus of Nazareth as our guide, as our example – the foot-washing, forgiving 7 x 77 times, cheek-turning Jesus – for how to live in community.

Let’s do it!

Amen.

"Dwelling in the House of the Church"

Rev. Laura Young
Summit on 16th UMC
Psalm 23
“Dwelling in the House of the Church”
May 7, 2017; Easter 4A

Let us pray: Loving God, let the words of my mouth help each person who hears them find a word from you. Amen.

Intro: I don’t know about you, but this week, I’ve felt like I’ve been soaked by a firehose every time I read the paper or turn on the news, and even when I’ve been in churches a few times this week. Things are intense. Here, for our Community Lament Tuesday night and Rev. Smith’s teaching here Thursday on the moral resistance movement, and Thursday at the National Day of Prayer at St. John’s UCC with Planned Parenthood and Crazy Faith, protestors lining Mound Street in front of the church….

Thank God for the 23rd Psalm. Really!

We had: United Methodist Bishop Karen Oliveto’s ruling last week about her consecration as being unlawful due to the fact that she is a married lesbian; (I was going to preach about that today but I decided not to – you know what’s going on….)

We had the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare repeal and replace vote in the House, which will now be sent to the Senate; and

We had an Executive Order by the president on religious “freedom,” which really amounts to religious discrimination.

All in a week.

I recited this Psalm a lot this week, and not just because I was preaching on it today. Thank God for the 23rd Psalm because we can say it, even when we don’t feel it… It can buoy us and help us articulate our trust in God, and we can read it, recite it from memory, even in times that it’s hard to trust God.

Ok, Psalm 23. I’m going to use the New Revised Standard Version and – hang on to your hats -- I’m first going to use feminine pronouns for God, just for a different perspective of this radical care and provision from God. Don’t worry, God is still God.:)

Scripture:

Psalm 23 (NRSV – with feminine pronouns for God)

The Lady is my shepherd

I shall not want.

She makes me lie down in green pastures;

She leads me beside still waters;

She restores my soul.

She leads me in right paths for her name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

I fear no evil.

For you are with me;

Your rod and your staff – they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

In the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;

My cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

All the days of my life,

And I shall dwell in the house of the Lady

My whole life long.

We think of this Psalm as one we hear at a funeral or graveside service, or in a setting in the midst of death and dying. My sister and I said the 23rd Psalm, alternating it with the Lord’s Prayer – for an entire long night when my 96-year-old grandfather was quickly nearing the end of his life – over and over again, in his delirium, he would be calmed as soon as he heard the familiar words of this Psalm, and he would join in, half-conscious, perhaps using muscle memory to say the familiar words.

Many of us were raised with the 23rd Psalm. I memorized it quite literally at my Nana Voorhees’s knee one summer when she lived with us. It is beautiful poetry. But really, it’s even more important to use this Psalm in our everyday lives to acknowledge and give thanks for the provision of God in our lives. This week, I saw God in so many places! I saw God provide an unexpected waft of lilac scent coming from the newly blooming bush into the open window of my bedroom… the perfect cup of French-pressed coffee with some heavy cream left over from a recipe… my son’s safe arrival at his destination…. Forgetting my New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary at the office and finding it at the library down the street from my house – God provides!!…. Unexpectedly getting to sit at a beautiful piano in a beautiful church and play There is a Balm in Gilead surrounded by beautiful women singing, verse after verse…. God provided Tina singing Precious Lord Tuesday night…. God provided Beautiful heavy spring rain showers…. What did God provide for you this week? Did you notice? Thank you God, for providing for me!!!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his little book on praying the Bible, from the one on Psalms, says our entire life becomes worship, the offering of Thanksgiving. Bonhoeffer says that to become thankful to God for the sake of Christ and to praise him in the congregation with heart, mouth, and hands, is what the Psalms wish to teach us. This is to help us live a radically God-centered life.

For a sheep, to be able to lie down in green pastures means to have food; to be led beside still waters means to have something to drink; to be led in right paths means the danger is abated and proper shelter is attained. God restores my soul, or, better translated, God keeps me alive. We lack nothing, because the shepherd provides the basic necessities of life: food, drink, shelter.

The Psalmist speaks of darkness here…. That even in the most life-threatening situation, God’s provision is sufficient…God is right here, intimately present in our lives. The rod represents royal authority and rule, but what comforts us is that God is sovereign and god’s powerful presence provides for our lives.

This Psalm shows God as the gracious host. God is shown as loving, merciful, and good.

I find it very interesting to think about goodness and mercy following the Psalmist. In Hebrew, the verb here has the more active sense of pursuit. God actively pursues us. This makes perfect Wesleyan sense when we consider Prevenient grace – God chasing us down, awaiting our response.

God provides, and this Psalm helps reminds us of that. And from that provision, we can gain trust. It’s a beautiful thing, trust. And this Psalm celebrates it.

A good friend of mine, who converted to Judaism as an adult, uses a daily blessing that she says, sometimes dozens of times a day. I won’t try to say it in Hebrew, but in English, it goes like this: “Our Praise to you, Eternal God, Sovereign of all the Universe, may the divine sparks of this beauty – or whatever it might be she’s asking a blessing upon – delicious food, a creature in nature, a moment of love – may the divine sparks of this thing be lifted to heaven and if you so find it pleasing, I humbly ask that you make it sacred.”

I am just captivated by this blessing and I find the song of trust that is Psalm 23 to be in this spirit. She explained that it is her way of gathering up the blessings of the world, acknowledging them, and being thankful for them. Moment by moment. She talks of the Jewish Mystics who believe that everything in the world has a divine spark within it, but those sparks are enveloped with “husks,” that represent our corporeal – or bodily – existence. They believe that our mission on earth is to lift all of the divine sparks to heaven – and when that finally happens, the goal of the creation of this world will have been accomplished. So, one can lift the divine spark to heaven, simply by noticing and appreciating it!

Imagine if we used this song of trust to celebrate and notice and recognize our daily activities, noticing and appreciating each simple meal, or quenching drink of clean water, or roof over our head when it’s raining. Imagine centering our lives on God in ways that challenge our usual ways of thinking – especially our very U.S. American way of wanting more and more and caring only for our self, and relying on our individualism. Well, this is a communal song of trust. It’s not just about us. Psalm 23 gives us assurance as individuals, but it also reminds us that we are all together in the household of God. We are dwelling in the house of God together.

And I want to pause here and reflect for a minute to remind us that we indeed are called to dwell in the house of God – in the House of the Lord, or the House of the Lady – the house of God – and most decidedly NOT the House of the church. For the church is broken. And yet, and yet! We are here. And so in the midst of the challenges and struggles, we give thanks for God bringing us together in this place, and we keep working to expand what is good, and clear out what is not. Too often, we focus on the church as the place to find God, and when we struggle in the church, we struggle to find God. But God’s gift of faith equips us to find God wherever we are – inside the church or out.

As always, I’m asking: as people attempting to follow Jesus, who modeled the perfect way to love God and our neighbor, how do we translate the events of our lives this week in light of our faith?

One of my favorite bosses throughout my whole career is Chris Glaros, who was the managing director at Children’s Defense Fund – he’s a lawyer at OSU now. Chris is a very sharp guy – an involved member of First Congregational UCC on Broad Street, very politically active. You might remember the TV commercial that he and his wife Lauren did after Donald Trump mocked a disabled journalist – they talked about their daughter Grace, who is disabled, and how everyone at school know never to make fun of Grace, who has spina bifida and is in a wheelchair. Chris’s wife and both parents are teachers. He’s from East Cleveland but lives here now. He’s just one of the best and smartest people I know. He and his wife Lauren have two children, both now elementary-school aged. Chris’s family’s story is an example of what it means to trust God; trust, which we think about every time we think of Psalm 23; and what it means to be truly pro-life and pro-choice; and how important it is that our government, including every politician and citizen, are responsible for making sure that every person who needs health care has it.

Chris and his wife Lauren learned after a 20-week ultrasound that their baby would be born with spina bifida and face a lifetime of enormous health challenges. Chris said that the first thing he did was open his Bible, where he found comfort in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” He gave thanks for his good health insurance for the family, paid for by the taxpayers of the state of Ohio, provided by the job he had at the time, knowing that the baby would bankrupt them if they didn’t have that insurance. They talked with a doctor and then decided together – without the help of government -- that terminating the pregnancy was not an option for them. Chris notes that Republicans are eager to profess that this child’s life was precious. He trusted our society, our government, Republicans and Democrats both, to ensure a safety net for their baby’s life after their choice was made. Chris explains that Grace would not be alive today without this safety net, without protections against a lifetime limit on her insurance coverage, without protections from denying coverage because of her countless preexisting conditions, without Medicaid. Grace has had some 30 surgeries and spent a good chunk of her life in the hospital. She requires 24/7 care. Chris reiterates that every life is precious and we need to care for one another, and expressed his heartbreak over the callousness of House Republicans to vote to cruelly deny millions of Americans the health care required to live the lives God intended for them. Chris shared that he likes to sing Amazing Grace to his daughter Grace at bedtime, and that on the night of the House vote on health care, he prayed for our elected officials’ blindness to be cured so they could see, as the line in the hymn declares, “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

There is so much blindness in the world and in the church right now. Selfishness and fear. If only we could trust God the way this Psalm calls us to.

So, in this time of uncertainty and perhaps even fear, how can we use the 23rd Psalm to lift us up? Perhaps we can consider praying something like this:

For people who don’t have health insurance or who fear they won’t have the health care they’ll need: THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD, I SHALL NOT WANT.

For 24 million Americans who have insurance now but might lose it next year: “HE MAKES ME LIE DOWN IN GREEN PASTURES; HE LEADS ME BESIDE THE STILL WATERS; HE RESTORES MY SOUL;

When states are allowed to charge more or completely eliminate people from accessing coverage because of pre-existing conditions, we say, “HE LEADS ME IN RIGHT PATHS FOR HIS NAME’S SAKE.”

When millions of people could lose coverage due to deep cuts in Medicaid, we trust, saying, “EVEN THOUGH I WALK THROUGH THE DARKEST VALLEY, I FEAR NO EVIL;

When religious freedom becomes religious discrimination, we trust saying, “FOR YOU ARE WITH ME; YOUR ROD AND YOUR STAFF, THEY COMFORT ME.”

When employers can scale back what they pay each year, or small businesses are free to drop coverage, we trust, saying, “YOU PREPARE A TABLE BEFORE ME IN THE PRESENCE OF MY ENEMIES; YOU ANOINT MY HEAD WITH OIL; MY CUP OVERFLOWS.”

When the UMC’s highest court says a lesbian bishop’s consecration is unlawful, we trust, saying, “SURELY GOODNESS AND MERCY SHALL FOLLOW ME ALL THE DAYS OF MY LIFE, AND I SHALL DWELL IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD MY WHOLE LIFE LONG.”

It is so important to pray together and to share our stories with one another. When we dwell in the house of the church, we will often be disappointed, but when we dwell in the house of God, we will be reconciled with God and one another – right with God and our neighbor, resting in God’s peace and giving thanks for God’s blessings, and dwelling in the house of the lord all the days of our lives.

Amen.

 

Nevertheless, We Rise!

Intro: The stone is rolled away, indeed. Thank you Summit singers!

Let us pray: Almighty and loving God, let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts always be instruments of your love. Amen.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a] into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,[b] “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

This ends our scripture reading from the Gospel of John, chapter 20, verses 11-18.

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So… the tomb is empty. But what does that mean? We know the story: Jesus is risen from the dead. Love wins! Repeat after me: Christ is Risen! (Christ is Risen!) Christ is Risen, Indeed! (Christ is risen, indeed!) Indeed!

Ok, but so what? What does that mean for us today? A Jewish prophet was turned over by religious authorities and executed by the state 2000 years ago, and was raised by God. What does this death-conquering, life-restoring God do in my life today? What else is possible for this God?

Our theme throughout Lent has been, “Nevertheless, She Persisted: A Lenten Journey to the Resurrection Through the Hearts and Voices of Women.” (Why have a one-word theme when you can have a 16-word theme?) Well, we’ve reached our destination and we are hearing this most wonderful “Good News” through the hearts and voices of women! In all four gospel stories, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, women are the first to learn of the resurrection. Jesus reveals himself first to women after the resurrection. Jesus sends women to tell his disciples he is risen. The essential message of Christianity is delivered first through women.

We women can be persistent – people of all genders can be, of course. Especially when in resistance mode. Persistent resistance. During Lent, we’ve kept in mind the idea that people persist, despite reasons they might not feel they can, but nevertheless, do – kind of like Senator Elizabeth Warren being censured in the senate, remember? She was warned, but nevertheless, she persisted?

Well, our scripture tells us that Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried, but nevertheless, he rises, and persistently calls us to new life! Despite experiencing little deaths, some that might even feel as painful as crucifixion, nevertheless we rise! Each act of love is a little resurrection.

With the power of this loving God, today, we can rise, with him, to new life. Do you want to rise to new life? Do you want to do that????!!! Me, too! :)

Last year at this time, I was about to experience a couple of little deaths, and then, I experienced resurrection.

If you had told me last year at this time, that the next Easter, I would be giving my first Easter sermon ever – never even wrote a practice one in my homiletics class in seminary – my first Easter sermon, on my first Easter in my first church, I wouldn’t have believed you. I didn’t plan to be back in the local church any time soon. I had been an associate pastor at a Columbus church, working with youth and families, but I left, honestly, in large part because I refused to be appointed “in the closet.” And living life in the closet, whether it’s about your sexuality, or something you’ve done that your ashamed of, or a mistake you’ve made, is straight-up tomb living. And God won’t have it! I am not called to tomb living, and I know you’re not, either. So, I left the local church and spent six years in the non-profit world.

But, I always worked a lot in the faith community, I even worked with Summit, helping put a Freedom School here, and raising money for it. I found that most of the organizers and non-profit leaders I met were not part of a faith community. Some were LGBTQ people who had left the church years ago because they didn’t feel welcome. Some just weren’t raised in church and never saw much use for it. For some, church had become irrelevant -- deemed watered-down and boring. People have been leaving in droves. We church people ring our hands over it all the time!

Well, I’ll tell you what. I found that the non-church-going people -- the progressive, open-minded, justice-oriented folks I met who were not in church, certainly looked a lot like people here at Summit, and in general were a lot more loving and Jesus-like than what you find in many churches or hear about mainstream Christian culture – judgmental and hypocritical. If I’d known you were like this, I might have come sooner, but then I wouldn’t be the pastor here now, so it all worked out.

You know what? I really didn’t want to go to church either. After all, official church doctrine deemed me “incompatible with Christian teaching.” That hurts. I know it’s not true. But still, do you really want to stay in a club that doesn’t want you as a member? I think that’s the reverse of a Groucho Marx quip….

So, I was content not serving the church directly, I was doing meaningful work, and living life out loud -- I was happy.

But then, about a year ago, my entire life changed in the span of one month. I lost my appointment and a formal complaint was filed against me for coming out as a lesbian.

I thought, well, I am gay, and out, and I do reproductive rights work. I might as well give up here. It was getting exhausting to be a progressive battling well-funded, highly-strategized conservative anti-LGBTQ and anti-reproductive rights forces both inside and out of the UMC. But I did not want to leave the church that I loved so dearly. The church of my family. The church where I belonged and spent eight hard years getting ordained. I had earned my place, just by being a child of God. I also felt the church needed this woman’s heart and my voice.

Have you ever felt like nothing is going your way and you might as well hang it up? It can be a lonely place. It can feel like being in a cold tomb. I was experiencing little deaths, losses, endings.

But then, I experienced resurrection and new life. The bishop dismissed the complaint against me (it was a technicality, but I’ll take it) AND, he called with an appointment. So, I went from a lost appointment and complaint pending, to new appointment and complaint dismissed. I felt I came out of the tomb and turned my face toward the sun, and was warmed.

And know who helped provide that warmth? That resurrection? You. YOU took me. Summit accepted me, an out gay clergyperson who did reproductive rights work, and had never led a church before. I’ve come to learn that you are a radically welcoming congregation. Not only accepted me, but welcomed me with open arms. What I’ve found is that here, you can be yourself. You can come as you are and you’ll be loved. And I experienced resurrection and new life, here, at Summit. Not very many churches that would let me be who I am, fully. But you do. And I say that because all are welcome here. That’s why you say, “No, seriously, this is church.” You mean it.

In my first sermon here, on October 2, it was World Communion Sunday. I was preaching about feeling welcome – about feeling like we all have a place at the table.

I told a story from our congregation’s history that you might not have known then, and I’ll tell it again: In the late-’70s when this congregation was first being formed out of three Methodist institutions in the neighborhood, for six months a transgender woman came to worship every Sunday. They celebrated Communion, every Sunday then. Before she came forward to receive the bread and cup, she put on her white gloves. The pastor did not know why she did this until he was leaving and he asked her about it -- she told him that she wore those gloves because she didn’t feel worthy of receiving the elements of Communion. But she felt welcome in this congregation. You are a church that is welcoming. Radically welcoming.

This church is a home and a refuge for many who wouldn’t otherwise be in church, including me. Thank you.

Often, I think of all the people who are grieving – and everyone is grieving something -- and I think about how they could find love, hope, and healing in our community – or in a truly welcoming community like ours here. And the world needs Christianity like this.

The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church have been and can be used to guide us about military action, healthcare, care for the earth, LGBTQ civil rights, women’s bodily autonomy, education, poverty, hunger, and more. We have the blueprint. This kind of church – this church – is worth fighting for. We have a rich history, and we do not check our brains at the door – we have open hearts, open minds, and open doors – this morning, even literally!

We are a hospital for the sick. We walk in here broken, and we bind one another up. That is church. And we welcome the community in to do very good work, like the farm workers working for fair food policies, and college students who make food and feed folks on the street, and Susan Smith’s Crazy Faith Ministries operates from here and partners with us, and the laughter and tears that happen in the trusting community that makes up the ironically named “Fight Club” Bible Study, and folks playing instruments together and singing….and welcoming ministries you just don’t find in other churches.

We’re seeking community and we’re seeking communion, and I still think church is a great place to do that. And even in a culture where the church of Jesus Christ is known for doing harm, I still think Jesus is the one who reveals the kind of salvific, saving, love God desires for us.

THE DEAD church might not be relevant, but the ALIVE church sure is! THIS church sure is. And we need to be relevant, for our children’s sake, particularly our children who otherwise might hear negative messages about themselves and those they love.

Lisa and Justin Kelley, who are joining our church next month, tell me they were “actively seeking a church for their kids that would never put stumbling blocks in their spiritual path.” Lisa said she wanted to find a church that “provides stepping stones” so her children “know God's true love,” and that they found that with Summit! Praise this risen God who gives birth to new life.

We love and serve a God who hung a beautiful pink full moon in the sky this week, and a God who put a spot in us that weeps when we see a person yanked from an airplane seat and dragged by his arms down the aisle and out the door. A God who cries with us when continue to wage war, and when we drop the ‘Mother of All Bombs,’ and when we are afraid of what tomorrow will bring, because this God has the power to raise love from a place of hate. A God who resurrects us from all of the little deaths we experience. We worship a God that helps us feel our humanity because he came to earth and lived, human among us, and experienced a most humiliating death, and nevertheless rises.

This is the God who sent a man who lived a life that modeled a love so radical – so forgiving, so inclusive, hard love! The kind of love that makes you want to forgive someone not just once, not even seven times, but 7 x 77 times, Jesus taught his disciples! A God that teaches us to stop and bind up the bleeding man on the road. The priest and the Levite walked on by, but the Good

Samaritan stopped and loved in a way that cost him time and money and set him off his course – no small thing in the ancient world.

At the end of our passage, Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” --------- Well, let me tell you that I have seen God in each one of you since I arrived here – on good days and bad. And I know that ‘resurrection living’ is when we look for – and see -- the God within and among us, in the faces of our siblings in faith. And each day is a new opportunity to experience one another and God.

At noon on Good Friday I stood here and read the story of Jesus’s arrest, trial, crucifixion, and death. And I read the timeless words of Pontius Pilate -- who asked the religious leaders who brought Jesus to be persecuted by the Roman authorities -- “What is truth?” In an era of a troubling rise of “fake news,” that question is even the more poignant, despite relentless obfuscation of the truth, and lies that would make Pinocchio blush, and nevertheless, we rise.

And even though the United Methodist Judicial Council, our Supreme Court, is gathering this week to deliberate over the worthiness of the ministries of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, and intersex clergy persons, including our dearly beloved, married lesbian bishop, Karen Oliveto, nevertheless, we rise!

And even as a married gay clergyman, right here in our conference, faces an impending trial because he married his same-sex partner, nevertheless, we rise!

And we take comfort and we trust, knowing that God is always on the side of those who suffer. God turns tears of pain into joy, as with Mary in our gospel lesson today. And God is always on the side of those who are oppressed, marginalized, or powerless. We serve a God who loves unconditionally – a God of hope and new life. And resurrection breaks death’s hold.

What is truth? Whatever it is, it cannot be restrained in a tomb. Even as each one of us faces the little deaths in life, and at some point the big one, and we all do, we persist in love with confidence, toward the resurrection. In a Good Friday world, it looks like death has had the final say. But we… are Easter people, and we rise.

Amen.

CLOSING:

And now, you are invited to a time of prayerful reflection. There are flowers in baskets at the foot of the cross -- select a flower and place it on the cross as you consider a personal prayer for forgiveness, new life, healing, love, life and light. May you feel the love of God this day and always. Please, come to the cross.