Thursday, August 11, 2016

Be Ready, Not Afraid

Sermon preached August 7, 2016
Final Sermon at First United Methodist Church, Duluth

Texts: Luke 12:32-40

            “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (v. 32)
            Earlier in my ministry here, I confessed that I was not always a huge fan of the term “pastor.”  It derives from the Latin word for shepherd and relates to the Latin verb which means “to lead to pasture, set to grazing.”  There is something about thinking of other people using the image of sheep that I find troublesome.
            Yet, in my time here, I have come to love and embrace the term, though I do not think of you as sheep.  Jesus words are words that resonate today, filled with tenderness and care – “Do not be afraid, little flock,” though I prefer Eugene Peterson’s rendering in The Message – “Dearest friends.”  Do not be afraid dearest friends.
            So here is a little irony.  The symbol used for bishops contains a shepherd’s crook or crosier, and I was given a wooden crosier at my consecration.  I better get used to this imagery!
            Do not be afraid, dearest friends.  There are so many emotions today: joy and celebration, sadness and grief, anxiety and fear.  We have so much to celebrate with joy.  We have done amazing things together in our work for Jesus Christ.  It is cause for celebration. We are parting ways.  After today, I am no longer your pastor.  I am your bishop, once removed, so to speak.  Bishops in The United Methodist Church are bishops of the whole church, and then assigned to an area.  I am not the bishop of this area, but I am one of forty-six bishops for The United Methodist Church in the United States, and one of sixty-six bishops worldwide overseeing the ministry with twelve million United Methodist Christians.  We are going different directions and there is sadness and grief.  We are heading into new territory.  There is anxiety and fear.
            I would be lying if I told you I had no concerns or anxieties about my new role.  I have never been a bishop before.  I will be overseeing over 800 congregations in the state of Michigan.  I will be working with the Council of Bishops as we work through some deep differences in The United Methodist Church.  I have told the story, but not all may have heard it, I have told the story about the Saturday of my consecration as bishop.  I was in the room where all the bishops had been getting ready for the service, when out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a door.  There was an “exit” sign over it, and on the door it read, “emergency exit only.”  I thought about it for a brief moment.
            And you are entering uncharted territory.  There will be an interim pastor here later this month, and for a few months – something new for First UMC, at least in a long while.  The interim pastor brings wonderful gifts and graces, but different gifts and graces.  Then a new pastor will be appointed with wonderful gifts and graces, but different gifts and graces.
            Do not be afraid, my dearest friends – but we are a little afraid, a little anxious.  I want to remind us, I want to remind myself, of the wise words of Parker Palmer, words that I have loved for a long time and words that I need now as ever, that we need now as ever.
            In commenting on the biblical words, “do not be afraid,” Palmer writes: As one who is no stranger to fear, I have had to read those words with care so as not to twist them into a discouraging counsel of perfection.  “Be not afraid” does not mean we cannot have fear.  Everyone has fear, and people who embrace the call to leadership often find fear abounding.  Instead, the words say we do not need to be the fear we have.  We do not have to lead from a place of fear….  We have places of fear inside us, but we have other places as well – places with names like trust and hope and faith.  We can choose to lead from one of those places, to stand on ground that is not riddled with the fault lines of fear, to move toward others from a place of promise instead of anxiety. (Let Your Life Speak, 93-94)
            We all have some fear, some anxiety.  We all have moments when we see an emergency exit door and wonder if our life is in an emergency situation that we need to leave.  We need not be our fears and anxieties.  We need not let them define us.  We can live out of places with names like trust and hope and faith, and joy and love, and genuineness, gentleness, generosity and justice.  How?  Jesus reminds us that it is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.  It is God’s delight to see the world more loving and caring, less fearful and suspicious.  God is at work, always at work, creating places with names like trust and hope and faith and love and joy and genuineness and gentleness and generosity and justice.  We need not cower in fear, rather we are invited to be open, to be ready for the on-going movement of the Spirit.  God invites us to stay focused on the treasure of God’s dream for the world, to let our hearts be captivated by that dream and our lives dedicated to its fulfillment.
            Today I am both sad and excited – sad and excited for me, and sad and excited for you.  God has done beautiful and wonderful things with us together.  We have worked with God’s Spirit to do beautiful and wonderful things, and beautiful and wonderful things await you in the future.  God’s Spirit working and moving within and among you – that’s not going to change.  Be ready.  Stay focused.  What saddens me is that I will not be a part of this.
            But… I am deeply and profoundly grateful for all that we have done together, for all the ways you have been moments of God’s grace for me.  I cannot finish this sermon without sharing a little music.  Music has shaped my spiritual life for a long time, since I was a teenager listening on Sunday evenings to my transistor radio in my family’s Lester Park home to the Scott Ross show.  Scott Ross had been a New York dj who became a Christian and he started a radio show using rock music to talk about faith.
            Here are some of the songs that have been playing in my mind these past few weeks:
            10,000 Maniacs, “These Are Days”
            Green Day, “Time of Your Life”
            Sarah McLachlan, “I Will Remember You”
            I am so grateful, even as my heart also aches.  With that combination, a song that has also been on my mind, particularly since Mary Whitlock sang “I Hope You Dance” a couple of weeks ago, is this song called simply, “The Dance”:
            Garth Brooks, “The Dance”
            I don’t think our lives are better left to chance, but they are better trusted to God’s Spirit, a Spirit that is always creating places with names like trust and hope and faith and love and joy and genuineness and gentleness and generosity and justice.  Sometimes the way of the Spirit leads to partings, and I could have missed the pain of those, but then I’d have had to miss the dance – and I would not have missed the dance of this past eleven years for anything.
            These are days I’ll remember.  I hope in the Spirit that you have had the time of your lives, and I trust joy awaits you.  I will remember you, and will cherish you and delight in what God has done with us together.  The people we love are built into us (May Sarton).
            And the dance of the Spirit will continue, for you, and for me.  It is God’s good pleasure, it is God’s delight, to keep creating, to keep inviting us into a newer world.  Know that.  Know that deep in your soul, and be ready for what God’s Spirit will be doing next.  In Jesus.  Do not be afraid my dearest friends.  Amen.


Life is short and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those with whom we walk the way.  So be swift to love, make haste to be kind, in the name of our companion on the way, Jesus the Christ.

Friday, August 5, 2016

A Few Words From Your Flight Attendant

Sermon preached July 31, 2016

Texts: Luke 12:13-21

            The Byrds, “Eight Miles High”
Given the sermon title, I wanted to find a song about flight, but I did not want to play “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”  So there you go.
            When you fly, every time you fly, the flight attendants, or on some larger planes a video of a flight attendant, offers some instructions.  You are told how to fasten your seat belts.  You are told that your seat cushion can be used as a floatation device in case of an emergency landing in water.  You are instructed to find the nearest emergency exit, remembering that this may be behind you.  If the lights go out, there will be aisle lighting to guide your way to the exit.  Then there is the instruction about the oxygen mask.  In case of a loss of cabin pressure an oxygen mask will drop down.  You are given instructions about how to place the mask on, and told that oxygen will be flowing even if the little bag does not inflate.  Lastly you are told to put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting other passengers.  Apparently there are times when it is important to take care of yourself first, when self-care becomes an absolute priority.
            Jesus is confronted by a disgruntled person.  “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”  It may seem like an odd request to be made of a spiritual teacher, but if my own experience is any guide, these questions come.  Jesus’ response is interesting.  “Take care!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”  We are never told how the questioner felt about the response.  Jesus goes on to tell a story about a man whose fields produced and abundant harvest.  What should he do with his abundance?  He decides to tear down his old barns and storehouses and build larger ones.  And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods, laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.  The man dies that night.  Jesus ends by encouraging his listeners to be “rich toward God.”
            So let’s explore for a few moments what this story isn’t about.  It isn’t Jesus being a scold about abundance or enjoyment.  The Scriptures of his faith invite enjoyment of the good gifts of life.  Ecclesiastes encourages a person to “eat and drink, and enjoy himself” (8:15) as does the intertestamental book Tobit (7:10).  Nor does the story seem to be a criticism of abundance or wealth in itself.
            The focus of Jesus’s criticism of the wealthy man in the story is that he becomes too self-focused, too self-involved.  He does not ask what good might come out of his abundance for others.  He does not think about wider connections, only about building more storehouses.
            The story reminds me a bit about John Wesley’s sermon, “The Use of Money.”  In that sermon, Wesley makes the case that Christians, followers of Jesus, should consider how they might use money well.  Wesley then delineates three principles for the wise use of money.  He says that we should earn all we can, or gain all you can, though he does put moral limits on what can be done to gain wealth.  He says that we should not gain wealth in ways that impair ourselves or harm our neighbors.  Rather we should gain all we can by “honest wisdom.”  Wesley’s second principle was that we should save all we can.  Wesley did not think frivolous spending was befitting disciples of Jesus.  Thirdly, Wesley argued that we should give all we can.  I have long appreciated this sermon of John Wesley for its helpfulness.
            What if, however, these principles are not just about how we might use money and wealth well?  What if these same principles have something to say about our life together in the Jesus community called the church?  Might we think about gaining all we can as growing in richness toward God?  Could saving all we can have something to do with enjoying a robust community life together?  Giving all we can as a congregation is our call from God to reach out in love and concern and service to the world.
            Taking Jesus’s story, and filtering it through John Wesley’s sermon, we get a picture of a healthy church community – a community that is concerned for generating richness in love and then giving it away.
            One year when I was a district superintendent, I preached a sermon at all the church conferences I led in which I said that I thought every church could be a growing church.  It was an audacious statement, but I elaborated by saying that there are different ways churches grow.  Churches can grow numerically.  They can grow as they help people grow spiritually – grow in faith, hope and love, grow in being joyous, genuine, gentle, generous and concerned for justice.  Churches can grow as they grow in their capacity as a community – grow in our capacity to be a community of love and forgiveness.  Churches can grow in outreach, in ministry and mission to the community and the world.  It was a way for those churches to think about what it meant to be healthy and vibrant.
            In my time here, together we have grown within as a church.  We have experienced some numerical growth, not astonishing, but encouraging, and we are on the verge of even more such growth.  In listening to each other, I think we have discovered that we have grown in faith – grown in love of God and each other, grown in joy, genuineness, gentleness, generosity and concern for justice.  Together we have grown as a community of love and forgiveness.  I remember a few years ago I preached a sermon on working with conflict as a church community.  Afterward someone asked me if there was something going on that he didn’t know about.  I said, “No” but went on to say that I thought the best time to discuss conflict was when we  are not embroiled in it.  We are not, and not because we don’t risk making difficult decisions but because we have grown in our capacity to make such decisions together.
            This is a wonderful faith community, rich in love toward God.  We also know that if all we do is keep on with this kind of growth – gaining and saving, building better storehouses for ourselves alone, there would come a time when that becomes unhealthy – the balloon bursts, inwardness becomes a kind of blindness.
            So we reach out.  That is just who we are in Jesus Christ, and I encourage us to continue as a Jesus community to give all we can.
            One way we give all we can is share this community of love with others.  There is always room for more people.  I know that this can sound solely like another inner concern, just growing our own storehouses, but while we benefit from more people being part of our community, people who become part of the community also benefit.  One of the things that breaks my heart as a pastor is when someone comes to my office in need, and it is clear to me that they have no community of support around them.  A couple of years ago, when sociologist Robert Putnam was in Duluth, he shared with the Duluth-Superior Community Foundation that he was troubled by the fact that participation in faith communities was declining among those on the socio-economic margins of society.  He was not speaking about a concern for the religious well-being, but of a concern for their social well-being.  People need others when they are struggling.  We offer that.  People need friends, companions along the way.  We offer that.  People need a place where they can ask deep questions about their lives.  We offer that.  People need a connection to God.  We offer that.  To open our doors to others, to invite others in, is not simply a concern for ourselves, it is love for others.  We are taking good care to get our spiritual oxygen, we need to be helping others with their spiritual oxygen.
            The other dimension to giving all we can is to also give our love away in the community.  We do a lot of that.  Just since I returned from Jurisdictional Conference on July 17, our church has fed over 120 youth and adults who were here in town for the Wildfire Mission event sponsored by Faith UMC in Superior.  We engaged in roadside clean-up along Maple Grove Road.  We held Ruby’s Pantry, on the day after the terrific storm hit Duluth.  Today we are going to bless backpacks, and after church put together more – your generosity providing for kids who need a little help.  That’s what we have done and do.  That’s who we are.
            State Senator Roger Reinert, a member at Asbury UMC was very kind to write an endorsement for my candidacy as a bishop.  In what he offered Senator Reinert wrote these words:  First United Methodist Church in Duluth is one of THE places where we go as a community to organize, recognize and serve.  The doors are always open.  That’s what we do, as this Jesus community.  That’s just who we are.  In the weeks to come, as you enter a time of transition, ask “What’s next?”  How is God calling us to reach out in concern and service to the world in new ways?  We keep growing in love and we need to keep giving it away.  We are taking good care to get our spiritual oxygen, we need to see that it is flowing out to others.

            As First United Methodist Church moves into the future, continue to grow rich toward God, grow rich in love.  Continue to help people become joyous, genuine, gentle, generous and concerned for justice.  Continue to grow as a community of love and forgiveness.  Take care to get your oxygen, but then share it with others.  Fill the storehouses with love and grace, enjoy, and give it away.  Reach out in concern and service to the world.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Friday, July 29, 2016


Sermon preached July 24, 2016

Texts: Luke 11:1-13

            The Grateful Dead, “Truckin’”
            In the late 1960s, early 1970s, the phrase “truckin’” connoted keeping on.  Keep on truckin’ – keep on going.  Toward the end of this song by the Grateful Dead, the singer sings, “lately it occurs to me, what a long, strange trip it’s been.”  Well, I am in a reflecting mood these days as I move toward my new role as a bishop and new position in Michigan.  It has been a wonderful trip these last eleven years.  Lately it occurs to me how quickly that time has gone and how deep the bonds run.  More on that in a couple of weeks.
            Our gospel reading for this morning has a lot to do with persistence, keeping on.  The story, however, begins with prayer.  Jesus has been praying and the disciples ask him to teach them to pray.  Jesus offers them a prayer, not atypical of the teachers of his time.  It offers a beautiful prayer, and in it one can find a summary of what the life of discipleship is to be about: intimacy with God, desiring God’s dream for the world to become a reality, concern for basic needs, forming a community of love and forgiveness, easing times of trial and courage to confront them.
            This delightful and wonderful prayer is followed by a rather odd story, a story only Luke has Jesus tell. Luke has Jesus tell a story about a man who has unexpected company arriving late at night.  This man goes to his friend to ask for bread to help show hospitality to the guest.  The man with the bread at first refuses, but then relents, giving bread to his friend not out of friendship but out of persistence.
            So is this story trying to say that God is a God who wants us to pester, perhaps even grovel?  Is this story trying to say that God is reluctant in generosity, but if we are persistent in our asking this reluctant God may relent?
            Jesus continues, though, and his words indicate that God is not that kind of God.  Ask and it will be given you, search, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you….  How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?
            Persistence seems to be a quality of God.  God is persistent in love.  God is persistent in grace.  God is persistent in wanting to give good gifts, particularly God’s own self in the Spirit.  Our persistence is rooted in the persistence of God.  We persist in prayer not to get the attention of a reluctant or capricious God, but in response to God’s persistent love and grace.  Keep on in prayer, because God keeps desiring our best.  There is ambiguity in the story Jesus tells about the man seeking the bread.  Most of us read it as his persistence getting bread from his friend.  The story can be read as persistence belonging to the giver of the bread.  He wants to be persistent in doing good.
            Jesus encourages us to be persistent in prayer, to keep on praying because God is always responding to our prayers.  Theologian Marjorie Suchocki wrote one of my favorite books on prayer.  In it she writes: God works with the world as it is to bring it toward what it can be.  Prayer changes the way the world is, and therefore changes what the world can be.  Quite simply, prayer changes the “isness” of the world…. And God who is always working with the world takes every opportunity within the world to influence it for its own good. (In God’s Presence, 31, 49).  God is always working for the good of the world.  God is persistent, and our persistent prayers are ways we open ourselves to God’s continuing influence.
            Yet while the focus of these words of Jesus seems to be prayer, and keeping on in praying, keep on truckin’ in prayer, the prayer that Jesus first offers, a model for the prayer we pray weekly and many of us pray more frequently, is a prayer about the entire life of discipleship.  The persistence Jesus highlights here is also a persistence in all the work of God, all of the work of God’s dream for the world – intimacy with God, meeting basic needs, building communities of love and forgiveness, easing difficulty and cultivating courage for difficult times.  Jesus seems to be saying keep on, keep on truckin’, keep on going, God is at work in the world and when you draw near to this God of persistent love and grace, you become persistent in love and grace.
            The Irish poet Seamus Heaney is a favorite of mine, as many of you know.  I have told the story of how one day, when I was a pastor on the Iron Range I heard a recorded reading of his from the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis while driving in my car.  I was excited that the reading would be repeated that night at 9 p.m.  I made my cassette recorder ready and taped that reading.  I love the poems and I love his voice reading the poems.
            One of the poems Heaney read that day was from his then new book The Spirit Level.  It was a poem dedicated to his brother, an Irish farmer, a Catholic in the Protestant north.  The poem is a wonderful mix of childhood memories with cruelties from the news.  Heaney recalls how his brother one time used a whitewash brush and chair to pretend he was playing the bagpipes, and the laughter created.  He recalls his brother’s broken arm.  He also, in the poem notes the death of a part-time reservist who had been waiting for a lift – Grey matter like gruel flecked with blood/In spatters on the whitewash.  Heaney does a wonderful job of reminding us of the small joys of life, the small injuries of life, and the large cruelties that are also part of the world.
            He ends the poem with a tribute to his brother who lives in this world of ours.
My dear brother, you have good stamina.
You stay on where it happens. Your big tractor
Pulls up at the Diamond, you wave at people,
You shout and laugh about the revs, you keep
old roads open by driving on the new ones.
You called the piper's sporrans whitewash brushes
And then dressed up and marched us through the kitchen,
But you cannot make the dead walk or right wrong.
I see you at the end of your tether sometimes,
In the milking parlour, holding yourself up
Between two cows until your turn goes past,
Then coming to in the smell of dung again
And wondering, is this all? As it was
In the beginning, is now and shall be?
Then rubbing your eyes and seeing our old brush
Up on the byre door, and keeping going.

            After reading this poem, Heaney shared a bit of wisdom with the Guthrie Theater crowd.  “Keeping going in art and in life is what it’s about.  Getting started.  Keeping going.  Getting started again.  That’s it.”

            Those words are especially poignant now.  Getting started, keeping going, getting started again.  Here we are on the edge of change, you and me.  We are getting started again, you with some new pastoral leadership, and me as The United Methodist Bishop assigned to Michigan.  God’s love is here for us as it always has been, God’s persistent love.  God invites us to get started again and keep going – keep going in deepening intimacy with God, keep going in desiring and working for God’s dream for the world, keep going in being concerned for basic human need, keep going in creating a community of love and forgiveness, keep going in trying to ease difficult times and cultivating the courage for when those difficult times come anyway.  God is not interested in our groveling.  God desires our good.  God desires to fill us with God’s Spirit.  God desires us to get started, keep going and get started again.  Sometimes the trip may seem long and strange, but God’s way is the way of grace and joy.  Keep on truckin’ in that way.  In Jesus.  Amen.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Whatever Happens

Sermon preached July 10, 2016

Texts: Luke 10:25-37

            Last Sunday I told you about my July 1 driving adventure back from the Twin Cities – the traffic jam around the construction in Hinkley which made the two and a half hour drive a four and a half hour drive.  So here’s a little irony, one of the songs I listened to on the drive was this one:  Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “The Waiting.”
            It is also a pretty ironic song this morning.  July 2016 has been about waiting for Julie and me, and this week the waiting is over.  Episcopal elections are this week, and when I stand here next week, we will all know what the coming year will bring.  The waiting is the hardest part.
            There is another kind of waiting that requires attention this morning, the waiting of a man, robbed, beaten, stripped, left half dead by the side of the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.  Jesus uses this man in a story, part of his conversation with a religious scholar, and expert in Jewish law and teaching.  The teacher has asked about the heart of the law – “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus asks the religious scholar his opinion.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus affirms his answer, but the question arises, “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus counters with a story about the man robbed, beaten and stripped, the waiting man.  This man wait, perhaps half-conscious, for help.  How aware is he?  Do his hopes rise a bit when he glimpse the figure of a man walking by?
            He waits.  The first man, a priest, passes by.  The man waits.  A Levite, another religious person, passes by.  The man waits.  Does hope wane?  Is he now more than half dead?  Another figure casts a shadow and then draws near – a Samaritan.  Does the injured man know it is a Samaritan?  Does he care?
            Why does it matter to the story?  Jews and Samaritans did not get along.  Samaritans were seen as impure, practicing a deformed kind of Judaism.  In Jesus’ time, as in our own, stories often made sport of religious leaders, wanting to shatter their pretensions.  As Jesus told the story, the listeners would have expected a common Jew to come by and be the hero, maybe a Tevya like character from Fiddler on the Roof.  Instead, Jesus shocks his listeners.  The hero is a Samaritan.  He is the one who takes care of the bleeding, bruised man.
            This is a story of radically inclusive love and care.  What seems to matter most are love and care and compassion and kindness, and it does not matter if you are the most socially respected person or the most despised person.  What matters is love.  The welcome statement in our bulletin speaks of our understanding of inclusivity.  All persons, without regard to race, sexual orientation, economic condition or religious background are invited to participate in our ministries and programs, and may become members of our congregation.  We welcome all in God’s love because all, without regard to race, sexual orientation, economic condition or religious background can know God’s love and can show God’s love.  All can have faith in Jesus Christ.
            What matters most in God’s scheme of things is love and care and compassion and kindness, a love, care, compassion and kindness that responds to the broken and bruised and bleeding bodies we encounter, and oh, goodness, how many such bodies we have encountered in recent days.  Still reeling from the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando with bleeding and broken bodies of LGBT persons – who are Christians, and Muslims, and Jews, who are black and white and Latino, every color of the human rainbow – shot by a Muslim, we hear of terrorist attacks in Turkey and Bangladesh and this week in Saudi Arabia, and the broken and bruised and bleeding bodies are Muslim.  This week the broken bodies were the African-American men, shot and killed by police officers, and then the broken, bleeding and bruised bodies were police officers in Dallas.  Our highways and byways have plenty of broken and bruised and bleeding bodies, and not all our wounds are physical – there are the broken spirits, the bruised hearts that need attention too.
            And the temptation is there to look away.  The needs are so great, some days I would just like to walk on by.  Earlier this week, I shared a poem at the memorial service for Camille Como, and the poem contained these lines:
Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled —
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.     (Mary Oliver, “The Ponds”)

            This is a beautiful poem, and I want in my life to be willing to be dazzled.  Nothing wrong with that.  Nothing wrong with wanting, at times to cast aside the weight of facts and maybe even float above this difficult world.  The world is difficult and complex and messy.  Yet to turn aside cannot be a permanent condition for we followers of Jesus.  The neighbor is the one who helps – love God, love your neighbor.  Love no matter who you are.  Love no matter who needs loving.
            Awhile back Bob Higgins shared a little book with me, John Wesley: a study for the times – the times were 1891.  The author, Thomas J. Dodd, D.D. wanted to write about Wesley as someone whose faith and character could be instructive for followers of Jesus.  Dodd describes Wesley as “like some broad, liberal man of the world, loving God and his fellow-men, holding to his own opinions, and doing in his own way what he could to advance the cause of good morals and religion” (47).  Illustrating Wesley’s broad-mindedness, Dodd tells the story of Wesley’s assessment of a Unitarian named William Edmonson, someone who the Church of Wesley’s time would have considered outside the bounds of true faith.  Of him Wesley would write: What faith, love, gentleness, long-suffering!  Could mistake send such a man as this to hell? – I scruple not to say, Let my soul be with the soul of William Edmonson” (Dodd, 50).  What matters most is faith, love, gentleness – love of God and neighbor.
            In seminary I read a classic from the mid-twentieth century, H. Richard Niebuhr, The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry.  H. Richard Niebuhr is the older brother of Reinhold Niebuhr whose work I used last Sunday (trivia!).  In this classic little book Niebuhr writes that the purpose of the church, what is central and what matters most to the church of Jesus Christ, is “the increase among [persons] of the love of God and neighbor” (31).  Niebuhr goes on: God’s love of self and neighbor, neighbor’s love of God and self, self’s love of God and neighbor are so closely interrelated that none of the relations exists without the other (34).  I have referred back to these words often in the years since my seminary graduation in 1984.  They are part of my stored memory bank, and they remind me that what matters most is love, care, compassion, kindness - God’s love of self and neighbor, neighbor’s love of God and self, self’s love of God and neighbor.
            In that memory bank is also a brief poem by Wendell Berry (1998 Sabbath poem).
Whatever happens,
those who have learned
to love one another
have made their way
into the lasting world
and will not leave,
whatever happens.

            Love seems like such a weak counter to all the broken, bruised and bleeding bodies in our world.  How can we talk about love when black men are shot and killed because of a broken tail light?  How can we talk about love when in the name of a religion, people are blowing other people up, or shooting other people?  How can we talk about love when police officers are gunned down by a sniper?
            Yet the message of Jesus is clear – love, love without condition or boundaries or definitions of who is in and who is out.  Love no matter who you are.  Love no matter who needs loving.  The purpose of the church is to increase love of God and neighbor, so love.  It is not an easy call to answer, this call of love.  We have to notice all the brokenness and bleeding.  We have to feel the ache of bending down to draw near and lift up.  We cannot be so dazzled that we forever float above the difficult world, but rather we need to encounter that difficult world with kindness and courage.  There will be time for being dazzled and drifting above for awhile, because the world is also a beautiful place, but it is made most beautiful by love.
Whatever happens,
those who have learned
to love one another
have made their way
into the lasting world
and will not leave,
whatever happens.

            Whatever happens, love.  These memorized words are even more poignant for me today.  In the next few days, my future will be decided and the decision will have an impact here.  We have done good work here in loving and caring and kindness and compassion – without limits, beyond boundaries.  We have not been perfect.  I have not been perfect, and sometimes get stark reminders of my imperfections, but together we have sought to be the church, that place that seeks to grow love of God and neighbor.  I am proud of the work we have done, and would be proud to continue that work as your pastor, and the work needs to continue.  A broken and bleeding and bruised world needs the love, care, compassion, and kindness, the hope and healing we can offer.

            Whatever happens, love.  In the name and spirit of Jesus, love, whatever happens.  Amen.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Blinded By the Light, July 4

Sermon preached  July 3, 2016

Texts: II Kings 5:1-14

            Manfred Mann, “Blinded By the Light”
            So in February I preached a sermon with this same title, but played a different version of the song – two versions, two sermons, right?
            This version was the more popular song on the radio.  It was a #1 song in 1977, the year I graduated from Duluth East High School.  This is Manfred Mann, who had an earlier hit song with “Do Wah Diddy Diddy.”  The song was written by and originally recorded by Bruce Springsteen.  It appeared on his first album, “Greetings from Asbury Park.”
            It seems fitting today to play a song written by someone who has become an American classic – on this Independence Day weekend.  But what does this have to do with the story Anne read from II Kings, the story of the ruler Naaman and his encounter with the prophet Elisha?  And what does this story have to do with us?
            The story is a classic.  Naaman is powerful, a military hero from Aram.  He also suffered from leprosy.  Due to a fortuitous set of circumstances, including the capture of an Israelite who became a slave to Naaman’s wife, Naaman travels to Israel/Samaria to see Elisha to see if Elisha might cure his leprosy.  He first sees the king of Israel, who is quite distressed.  Suddenly a powerful nearby king expects a healing!?  He suspects this is just a pretense for a fight.  Elisha, however is willing to act on God’s behalf to heal Naaman.  With full entourage, he arrives at Elisha’s home, and Elisha sends a messenger out with instructions that Naaman is supposed to wash in the Jordan River.
            Naaman’s response is also a classic.  He becomes quite angry and upset.  “I thought that for me he would surely come out and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!  Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?  Could I not wash in them and be clean?”  Enraged, Naaman was ready to turn away.  Servants, though, brought him to his senses.  “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it?  How much more, when all he said to you was ‘Wash, and be clean?’”  Naaman decided to give it a try, and it worked!
            So here’s one lesson to draw for our lives.  Power can blind us, and healing often comes with new vision and new perspective.  Naaman is powerful, so powerful that he becomes offended when Elisha does not seem to pay due deference.  He is willing to walk away from the possibility for healing because he is so full of himself, so taken with his own superiority and the superiority of his country.  Naaman is powerful and pretentious.
            We all have the capacity for pretension.  The great American theologian and public thinker of the last century, Reinhold Niebuhr, in his book The Irony of American History, wrote about this.  “[The human person] is constantly tempted to overestimate the degree of his freedom and forget that he is also a creature” (Reinhold Niebuhr, LOA, 585).  “We… are never safe against the temptation of claiming God too simply as the sanctifier of whatever we most fervently desire” (589).  One of the core convictions of Niebuhr’s theology was that we humans tend to overestimate our own virtue, goodness and wisdom, and underestimate that in others.  The Christian virtue of humility has something to do with being open to what others might teach us, and when we are so open, remarkable things might happen.
            I recall an episode of the old television program “All in the Family” where a young man, George, who was developmentally disabled, a “slow learner,” encounters Archie Bunker and family (season 4, episode 19, “Gloria’s Boyfriend).  Toward the end of the show, the young man brings over a small poster that one of his teacher’s gave him when he was younger.  The teacher gave it to George because he cried when other kids called him “stupid.”  The poster read, “Every man is my superior in that I may learn from him.”  George said it meant that everybody could learn from everybody – a good lesson, a lesson Naaman finally gets.  When Naaman lets go of his pretensions, his “blindness,” healing happens.
            Naaman’s story adds yet another dimension, power.  Naaman is powerful, and the addition of power to the human capacity for pretension strengthens that capacity.  We seem even more tempted to overestimate our wisdom and our goodness when we have power.  Couldn’t the prophet, at least for me have come out and waved his hands over my skin?  Aren’t the rivers of Damascus better than anything that Samaria or Israel has?
            Here’s where Independence Day comes into view.  The United States is a powerful nation, perhaps the most powerful nation on the planet right now.  The United States has in its founding documents and originating dreams profound human values.  One question before us as a nation is whether we can celebrate our accomplishments and promise while also acknowledging our shortcomings and failings.  Here is Reinhold Niebuhr again.  The question for a nation, particularly for a very powerful nation, is whether the necessary exercise of its virtue in meeting ruthlessness and the impressive nature of its power will blind it to the ambiguity of all human virtues and competencies LOA, 585-586)
            The United States has wonderful dreams at its core.  I think of the words on the Statue of Liberty (Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus”):

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

            What a beautiful dream.  We celebrate that this week.  Can we also acknowledge the truth captured by another poet, the African-American poet of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes?:
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)….

            Can we honestly look at places where America has not been the dream we were meant to be?  As Christians, can we ask such questions, knowing that God in love yearns for human communities to be communities of hope and healing, care and compassion, justice, peace, reconciliation and love?  Can we be people who are not afraid of difficult truths, people who understand that the truth sets us free, and that new vision is often a prelude to healing?
            In her book about mass incarceration in the United States, an particularly its impact on African-American communities, Michele Alexander writes about “callous colorblindness.”  It is not an overstatement to say the systematic mass incarceration of people of color in the United States would not have been possible in the post-civil rights era if the nation had not fallen under the spell of a callous colorblindness….  It is precisely because we, as a nation, have not cared much about African-Americans that we have allowed our criminal justice system to create a new racial undercaste (240-241).  Hard words, but is she on to something?  Will we have the courage to look, particularly if we have enough power not to worry so much about getting caught up in that system?

            We all have our “blind spots.”  As human beings we all tend to overestimate our virtue and our wisdom.  When we have power, as persons, as a nation, that temptation is even greater.  Reinhold Niebuhr put it well.  “If men are inclined to deal unjustly with their fellows, the possession of power aggravates this inclination” (LOA, 354)  The Naaman story reminds us that God’s healing comes when we are open to new visions, new perspectives.  God’s healing comes when we can let go of our blindnesses, let go of our self-importance, not our self-esteem but our self-importance, and wash in the rivers of love and justice and freedom that may be near at hand.  When we do that we are a stronger people.  When we do that, we are a stronger nation.  Amen.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Creator! Shall I Bloom?

Sermon preached June 26, 2016

Texts: Galatians 5:1, 13-25

            Jay and the Techniques, “Apple, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie”            
Well, i tunes got some more of my business this week.  I was thinking about how to begin this sermon and this old song popped into my head.  I thought for sure I had it on my i pod, but alas, I did not.  But i tunes had it.  “Apple, peaches, pumpkin pie.”
Fruit – apples, peaches, pumpkin.  One of the things I really like about summertime is the fresh fruit you can buy and eat.  Cherries are out and delicious.  Berries are no longer $4 for a half-pint.  Traveling in parts of the U.S. you might find fruit stands – apples, peaches, plums.
Fruit is the focus of today’s sermon.  No, not the fruit that grows on trees or vines, but “fruit” that can grow in our lives – “spiritual fruit.”
Galatians 5:23-24 are some of my favorite verses in the Bible.  I have this list memorized: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  If I stumble it is because I first memorized the list of the fruits of the Spirit from the Revised Standard Version, and one word changed when the Revised Standard Version became the new Revised Standard Version in 1989.  In the RSV it was love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  In 1989, goodness became generosity.  Bible translation is not an exact science.  Language usage changes.  Our understanding of words morphs.
Anyway, I love this passage because I think it is helpful to think about where we are going, to consider what life under the influence of God’s Spirit looks like.  When trying to describe what being a follower of Jesus is like, what life deeply shaped by God’s Spirit is like, Paul reaches for an agricultural metaphor, “fruit.”  Disciples of Jesus, people on the Jesus Way, people shaped by God’s Spirit produce these kinds of things in their lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
That these are among my favorite verses in the Bible, and that I am passionate about thinking about what life in Jesus, in the Spirit, looks like is very Wesleyan, very United Methodist.  One Bible I own is the “Wesley Study Bible.”  It is a NRSV Bible but with footnotes provided by Wesleyan scholars and teachers.  Under Galatians 5, they identify “fruits of the Spirit” as a “Wesleyan core term.”  The text was often alluded to by Wesley.  Even if the text is not alluded to, the idea that we need to consider “fruit,” that we need to think about where we are going in this life with Jesus, is something Wesley emphasized over and over again.
In his sermon on “The Nature of Enthusiasm” which I cited a few weeks ago, Wesley discusses “the will of God” and believes there is a general rule about what God’s will for our lives is.  The will of God is our sanctification.  It is God’s will that we should be inwardly and outwardly holy; that we should be good, and do good, in every kind and in the highest degree whereof we are capable (Forty-Four Sermons, 423).
Wesley offered a series of sermons on the Sermon on the Mount, and in thirteenth in the series, he shared that whatever creeds we may rehears, whatever professions of faith we make, whatever number of prayers we may repeat, whatever thanksgivings we read or say to God… the heart of the matter is to be a person who loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his mind, and soul, and strength and who in this spirit, does good unto all (371, 374).  In the ninth sermon on The Sermon on the Mount, Wesley asserted that we love and serve God by imitating God.  Their soul is all love.  They are kind, benevolent, compassionate, tender-hearted; and that not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward [speaking of language changing, this is the opposite of “toward” and mean a contrary person] (326).
My favorite expressions of John Wesley’s view of where the Christian life is headed, what life with Jesus can be, what life profoundly influenced by God’s Spirit can be is his simple definition of “Christian perfection.”  Wesley wrote in 1767: By perfection I mean the humble, gentle, patient love of God and our neighbor, ruling our habits, attitudes, words, and actions.
I think it is helpful to think about where we are going, to consider what life under the influence of God’s Spirit looks like.  In that I am very Wesleyan, very United Methodist.  I have often used my own list of five to talk about what life on the journey with Jesus can be, what life in the Spirit can and should be: joy, genuineness, gentleness, generosity and justice.  What Paul’s list of fruits of the Spirit, what John Wesley’s words about perfection, what my list of five all seek is to give us some help along the spiritual journey.  They help us ask, “are we headed in the right direction?”  They remind us of what is most important in this life with the God of Jesus Christ.  They remind us of why we are here as a church, a community of Jesus.
We are here to connect our lives more deeply with God so that our lives are made different and through our transformed lives, the world is transformed.  Part of the transformation of our lives is to care about the transformation of the world.  Thinking about Paul’s list, or Wesley’s idea of growing in love, or my list of five, the question is, how are you doing?  Are you growing?  Are we as a community helping each other grow?
There is another dimension to this, another way to explore this idea of fruits and growth.  As mentioned in the children’s time, fruit grows from trees and trees grow from the seeds found in the fruit.  We need seeds.  We need seeds planted in our souls if we are to grow spiritual fruit.  The list Paul provides is also a spiritual seed catalogue.  You want to produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – plant seeds of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  You want to grow in the humble, gentle, patient love of God and our neighbor, have it rule habits, attitudes, words, and actions?  Plant seeds of humble, gentle, patient love.  You want to grow in joy, genuineness, gentleness, generosity and justice?  Plant seeds of joy, genuineness, gentleness, generosity and justice.  Plant seeds in your own life.  Plant seeds in the lives of others.  Somehow these kind of seeds have a unique quality.  When you plant them in others they seem also to get planted in yourself.
And here’s the other part of such planting.  You have all you need to plant such seeds.  You need not be great, important, noteworthy in anyone else’s eyes.  You are special to God.  You matter to this Jesus community.  You can do what you can with the seeds that you have.  I came across this wonderful poem preparing for this morning called “Accepting This.”  It is about beginning to plant seeds of goodness where we are.  Here is one stanza of the poem.
We cannot eliminate hunger,
but we can feed each other.
We cannot eliminate loneliness,
But we can hold each other.
We cannot eliminate pain,
but we can live a life
of compassion.

            Floods in West Virginia, a gunman taking hostages in a German movie theater, the Pulse Nightclub shooting – events can feel overwhelming.  There are times when we need look no further than our own front doors to feel overwhelmed – family illnesses or stresses.  Sometimes we need look no further than the mirror to feel overwhelmed – our own emotions and questions creating internal chaos.  Begin where you are.  Plant the seeds you can plant, and more seeds will come.
            This past week at the Minnesota Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church in St. Cloud we were invited to go into the community to bless others, simply to say hello and hear their story.  Julie, Laura, Dale and I went to eat at a small Greek restaurant near the convention center on our way to the park where we were all gathering Tuesday evening.  I asked the young man taking our order about himself.  Myron had worked there about five months.  He was from Sri Lanka and had attended school for a year in St. Cloud.  I told him that United Methodists were gathering in St. Cloud, and connecting with people and asked if I could take a picture with him.  He obliged.  I thanked him for his work and for his willingness to help me with my conference assignment.  Arriving at the park, Julie and I took a walk around the lake.  Nearing the end of the walk, I ran into a woman who was having a picnic with children and friends.  I told her about what was happening in the park, and she told me that her son was so excited, because they were there to celebrate his birthday, and there was music and games around.  We were making his birthday special.  I asked her if I could take a picture with she and her son and another child.  She obliged.  Later I saw her helping some of us United Methodists put together health kits.  Small acts, but some seeds planted – hopefully in the souls of those people I met, and certainly in my own soul.
            This list of fruits of the Spirit Paul provides is a check-up list.  Are you growing?  It is a seed catalogue for the soul.  Are you sowing?  Start from where you are, and here is another poem that reminds me of all this – Emily Dickinson.
God made a little Gentian—
It tried—to be a Rose—
And failed—and all the Summer laughed—
But just before the Snows

There rose a Purple Creature—
That ravished all the Hill—
And Summer hid her Forehead—
And Mockery—was still—

The Frosts were her condition—
The Tyrian would not come
Until the North—invoke it—
Creator—Shall I—bloom?

            Creator, shall I bloom?  Yes and yes and yes again.  Plant.  Bloom. Be beautiful fruit.  Amen.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Sound of Screaming Silence

Sermon preached June 19, 2016

Texts: I Kings 19:1-15a; Luke 8:26-39

            This is going to be a very auditory sermon.  We are going to focus on hearing, on ears, on listening, and I want to begin with an exercise in listening.
            This is a piece called “The Unanswered Question” and the composer is the American Charles Ives.  I first encountered the music of Charles Ives in college, in a course called “Arts in America.”  One of the things that troubles me a bit about the world today is that we have become so career focused that young people in college have very little ability to take a course or two simply because they are interested in the content, because they might want to explore new ideas.  The cost of higher education also plays a role here.
            Ives was an American composer from the early twentieth century.  This particular piece has a haunting quality about it, and it reminds me of the story of Elijah on Mount Horeb.  Remember, Elijah is on the run from Jezebel, again Jezebel – just like last week a wicked figure.  God tells Elijah to go to the mountain where God will meet him.  There is a strong wind, but no God.  There was an earthquake, but no God.  There was a raging fire, but no God.  Then comes “a sound of sheer silence” and God.
            Quick cut to the other Scripture we read for this morning and it could not be more different.  It is chaotic and noisy.  Jesus and the disciples arrive at the country of the Geresenes, and there they are greeted by a naked, shouting man, a person who lived among the tombs, a man driven by demons into the wild.  A legion of demons speaks out of this suffering man, asking Jesus not to send them into the abyss.  The demons are sent into a heard of swine who rush headlong into a lake.  The scene is wild and frenzied.
            Hearing of the incident, crowds gathered – wondering and fearful.  The wild man is healed.  Jesus tells his to go and share his story.  So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
            Doesn’t this sound chaotic and noisy and wild and frenzied – more like strong winds, earthquakes and raging fire than like the sound of sheer silence?  I want to draw two broad lessons for our lives from all this, and within the second lesson go a little deeper.
            The first broad lesson is this: God can be heard in the sound of sheer silence, in the gentle, quiet whisper, but God’s voice is not always so quiet.  God can also be heard in joyous sounds and songs.  I contrast that Charles Ives piece with a concert I attended recently, through the gracious generosity of a friend.  The week before General Conference, I had two meetings in the Twin Cities, one a training for small group leaders for clergy groups in the Minnesota Conference, and the other the mandatory clergy ethics and boundary training I mentioned a couple of weeks ago.  Well, the night of the clergy ethics and boundary training, Paul McCartney was playing a concert in the Twin Cities, and, as mentioned, through the grace and generosity of a friend, I was able to attend.  It was loud, it was joyous, and there were times when I was moved in deep places in my heart and soul, places where God speaks.  Music is often for me a way the Spirit touches me, speaks to me and it can be the quiet sound of Charles Ives or Paul McCartney singing “We Can Work It Out” the week before General Conference.
            God can speak even in the joyous songs of life, yet God’s primary voice is the whisper.  Theologian Marjorie Suchocki writes: God’s word is hidden incarnationally in the world.  It is a whisper. (The Whispered Word, 6).
            So I was thinking about our auditory capacity as humans.  We have two ears, unless something has happened along the way.  So in a metaphorical way, perhaps we can think of our life in the Spirit as having one ear tuned to the whisper of God in the sound of sheer silence, and the other ear tuned to the world – its screams, its cries, its anguish, its songs of hope and joy.  We listen for the sounds of screaming silence.
            Jesus, it is reported, sometimes stole away to quiet places, wanting to listen for that whisper of God.  Jesus also went to places like the country of the Geresenes, encountering a wild, frenzied man, noisy crowds, chaos.  As he listened to the whisper of God and to the anguished cries of a hurting person isolated from the community, healing could happen.  The Paul Simon song we used in the call to worship is a warning about the dangers of a certain kind of silence, of silencing the voices of anguish, the cries of pain in our world, and of being silent in the midst of them.  Jesus uses both ears – an ear attuned to the whisper of God and an ear attuned to the cries of the world, and we are invited to do the same.
            We don’t have to work very hard to hear cries of hurt, pain and anguish.  Our nation is still reeling from the shooting last Sunday in Orlando.  We prayed for the victims and the community last Sunday, not knowing many of the details.  What has become clearer since is that the shooting was motivated by hatred, hatred directed toward LGBTQ persons.  While we are all affected, and we all feel pain and grief, it is the LGBTQ community that we particularly need to listen to.  This week on CNN, there was a brief history of some similar incidents of violence directed toward LGBTQ persons – other nightclub shootings, and arsons.
            Friends I know that human sexuality is a topic that is difficult.  It strikes deeply into our identity.  It touches our deepest selves.  Maybe getting close to this is like getting close to the naked man living in the tombs – it is a little frightful.  Challenging as it may be, we need to hear the cries of anguish and pain from our LGBTQ neighbors and friends.
            It is now about a year since the shooting in Charleston, SC, a shooting directed at the African-American community.  We need to listen to the cries of anguish and pain from our African-American sisters and brothers.
            We need to listen to the voices of all those who have lost loved ones to violence, and ask what we can to better as a human community.
            We need to listen to the anguished cries of all those marginalized in our world, all those seemingly consigned to living among the tombs – the hungry, the destitute, the bullied – and when we hear those voices, those screams, with our other ears we need to listen for the still small voice of God’s Spirit.
            The sounds of the world are not only cries of anguish and pain, however.  There are songs of hope and joy.  The novelist Darcey Steinke, whose father was a pastor, wrote in her memoir, Easter Everywhere: Life is brutal, full of horror and violence.  Life is beautiful, full of passion and joy.  Both things are true at the same time. (219)  We need to listen to both kinds of sounds.  At the end of the story, the healed man proclaims all that Jesus had done for him.  There is a joyous voice.
            The idea of listening to both voices of the world was brought home to me again by another voice, this the voice of a young woman I met a few of years ago when she was a young delegate at General Conference from Michigan.  She is now living in London, and this week she posted these thoughts on Facebook, and I asked if I could use them in today’s sermon.  So thanks to Rebecca Farnum.
Tears finally came today.  Since waking on Sunday, I have been on autopilot, incapable of concentrating on work and unable to properly engage with people.  The emotions were too raw, too poignant, too conflicting.

And finally, finally, the dam released.  And the tears came.

Tears for families who lost their loved ones in such a tragic way.

Tears for survivors who will grapple with horrific memories and what ifs for the rest of their lives.

Tears for dear ones who were viscerally reminded of the unjust dangers accompanying their sexuality.

Tears for beloved friends who, while fasting during one of the most beautifully reflective celebrations of their holy year, saw their religion cited as a motivator for horrific violence and faced accusations against their entire community.

Tears for a man so broken and failed by the system that his confusion, hatred, and rage came out in the form of senseless massacre.

Tears for a nation that has seen this time and time again and still fails to take adequate action on gun control, mental health care, and hate speech.

America, you are broken.

World, you are broken.

Humanity, you are broken.

But oh, you are beautiful.

For also this week in the world, a couple gazed adoringly at their adopted daughter as she laughed for the first time.

A man unhesitatingly embraced his transgender son.

A woman gleefully accepted her girlfriend’s marriage proposal.

A Pakistani Muslim shopkeeper donated money to rebuild a Christian chapel destroyed by monsoon rains.

We must let the tears come.  There is a time to weep.  This is that time.

But we must also let the smiles come.  Because there is a time to laugh.  And this is that time too.

May you mourn.  May you rejoice.  In the beautiful, broken mess this thing called life is.  And may you know peace.

            Listen.  Listen with both ears.  Hear God’s caring, compassionate voice embracing you in love – that voice that also calls us to proclaim good news, to listen to and stand with the hurting, the bruised, the abused, the marginalized, the victimized, and to do good.  Listen.  Live.  And may we know peace.  Amen.