Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Festival of Homiletics: David Lose

Still a few more posts about May's Festival of Homiletics! I think I have two more posts after this one. I don't know if you're tired of them, but they help me to actually retain the content of all the great preachers I heard. Up today: David Lose. Parishioners of mine might recognize his name - he's the source I'm most likely to quote in my sermons. I love his unique and pastoral perspective on the texts, and he brought a unique perspective to the Festival's theme of Preaching and Politics.

Lose lectured and preached. His sermon was titled, "Nothing Comes from Nothing," based on Isaiah 55:1-13 and Matthew 20:1-16.

Isaiah's text starts with "Ho!" Untranslatable in the Hebrew, the word serves as exclamation of delight, joy, surprise, or just to get our attention. It is always emphatic. It says, "Pay attention, this matters!" Isaiah's message is: "Stop looking and start living. It is hard to believe this promise, but listen! This is for free!!"

We have Isaiah’s promise, Lose said, but no record of response. The parable of the laborers in the vineyard is Matthew/Jesus's attempt to respond.

The last-hired workers work an hour – after all, a little is better than nothing, because nothing comes from nothing. But, grace and mercy screw everything up!Day in day out, grace messes with our order and is the last thing we want. If it turns out that something comes from nothing, what will we do?

There's no more counting in Jesus’ world, Lose said. We are willing to kill and die for our false sense of order, sense of control, until we realize we were never in control in the first place. Being out of control scares us! It makes us vote for anyone who promises law and order.

But when you realize you have nothing, then God’s word of daily bread for free is finally good news. It never will make sense. It is always absurd. But it is good news. The moment you say you’ve got nothing, you hear God say, “Nothing! Now that’s something I can work with.” No one has done enough to "earn" from God – we deserve nothing – but we given all things through God! Creating something out of nothing happens to be one of God’s favorite things to do. Nothing comes from nothing – except for with God.

David Lose
Lose's lecture was titled, "The Gospel of Jesus: Political or Parabolic?" and it was particularly fascinating. I hope my notes convey any sense of it.

"How do we persuade one another?" Lose asked. Science tells us that when we're presented with conflicting facts that go against our deeply held convictions, it isn't our rational brain that responds, but the part of our brain that responds to threatening information. "We don’t distinguish between intellectual threats and physical threats."

Lose talked about how taste tests showed that people liked New Coke better than Classic Coke - but we still hated New Coke as consumers. Taste tests also show that people like RC Cola better than other colas, but we still don't buy that the most (where it is available.) Why? Because we like the "story" of Coca-Cola, and who we are as soda drinkers - our place in the story, and we reject things that don't go with this story. Lose talked about a professor sharing this story with his family - how people like RC better, but wouldn't believe it even after they saw taste-test results, and the professor's family wanted to take the test themselves. Test results? They preferred the taste of RC. But they weren't persuaded! Even with the results, the facts, they still didn't believe they liked it better, and got angry at their husband/father for trying to tell them otherwise.

We use stories to make sense of our lives and organize our experiences. When we get together, we share our stories. We have stories we tell ourselves: I do this _____ because I believe that ____________. The political parties in the United States are keepers of a particular story about what America is. What is the most compelling story of America? There is more than one. John Kerry wasn’t relatable, but George W. Bush told good stories. Facts are unpersuasive.

Lose argues that most political preaching that happens can take place because it takes place in very homogeneous communities: You are preaching to your choir that tells the same story as you are telling.

Jesus clearly didn’t take a homiletics class, said Lose. He rarely quotes scripture. When he does, he usually does for 1 of 2 reasons. 1. To answer a question. (But then he tells a story.) or 2. In order to reinterpret scripture or to call a passage into question, to challenge validity of it.

Yet, we preachers are taught to start and stick and end with text. This is not what Jesus does (in the synoptics)! Mostly he just tells stories. Improbable stories. Intriguing stories. Dysfunctional but familiar family dynamics. Filling us with wonder. Violence and power grabs. Mercy and grace. Reversals of fortune.

He isn’t trying to persuade his audience. He’s trying to overwhelm them narratively with a better story, more life-giving story, more filled with God’s character than one they are currently living. And he didn’t just tell parables. His whole life-ministry-death-resurrection is one whole parable. To throw one story alongside another to see what happens – that’s what parables do. A familiar-enough-to-be-recognized story that is challenged with twists and turns.

Jesus threw his life’s story alongside the story of empire. He’s raised! But that’s just another story, right? And those who see him are "in joy disbelieving," even while they see it. Resurrection is not even quite meant to be explained, but entered into.

What story can we tell people that will overwhelm their story? This story: You are enough. You have enough.

Lose concluded with two hunches:
Hunch 1: We share Jesus best through telling stories of scriptures, and our lives as people transformed by faith.
Hunch 2: Parables are helpful but hard to interpret. Whose parable is it? How you see and understand Jesus will influence how you interpret parables.

I found this lecture to be brilliant, and I've been mulling it over a lot. I'm fascinated by how people change their minds about things, about long-held beliefs. Our current political/cultural context should tell us, as Lose says, that facts are not persuasive. But Jesus is, isn't he? So how can we tell people a better story - the story of the life-transforming work of Jesus? I'll be thinking about that.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sermon, "Saying Yes to God: Yes, But," Luke 9:57-62

Sermon 6/17/18
Luke 9:57-62

Saying Yes to God: Yes, But

Someone mentioned to me this week that they enjoyed last Sunday’s sermon, that they felt it was speaking right to them. And I told them that people often respond this way to a sermon when I also feel that way about it - like I’m speaking, preaching to myself. This week is another week like that for me. This is a tough text. Not tough because it is hard to understand, but tough because Jesus’s words cut to my heart with their clarity and urgency, asking for a response. In Luke’s gospel, we find a series of people approaching Jesus, saying that they want to follow him. This seems to us perhaps like it would be great news. Jesus’s message is getting across, and people are interested. But Jesus rebuffs each one. The first approaches and says, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus responds, “Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” In other words, “Anywhere also means nowhere, no landing place. Are you sure you mean it?” Jesus extends the invitation: “Follow me” to another, and they respond, “Lord, first let me bury my father.” Jesus, apparently unmoved, says, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” A third offers to follow Jesus, “but first,” he says, “let me say farewell to those at home.” And Jesus responds, “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” That’s the whole passage. We don’t know what happens next for any of these folks - if they stay with Jesus or if they say “forget it.” The gospel moves on.
In my Bible, the subheading of this passage we just heard is called “The Would-Be Followers of Jesus.” I can practically see the air quotes around the phrase. I hear “Wanna-bes.” What springs to mind is John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, his sermon called “The Almost Christian.” Writing on Acts 26:28, where King Agrippa says to the apostle Paul in the King James that Wesley quotes, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” Wesley says, “Many there are who go thus far: ever since the Christian religion was in the world, there have been many in every age and nation who were almost persuaded to be Christians. But … it avails nothing before God to go only thus far.” This teaching of Jesus - it seems to demand our all, and leave no room for going only so far, no room for almost following Jesus.
Preacher and theologian Karoline Lewis writes, “When I started thinking about [this gospel text], my first response was, Sorry, Jesus. You are wrong. Sometimes we have to bury our dead and you are just going to have to wait. Sometimes we have to say goodbye to those we are leaving or to those we have lost, and we will catch up to you eventually. Sometimes we have a few things that need tending before we jump on the discipleship bandwagon. Like what, you might say, Jesus? Well, like grief, for example, for those close and personal, but also for whom our world continues to insist cannot be a part of your kingdom. Sometimes we just need some time. Thanks, Jesus.”
I agree, don’t you? I want to tell Jesus we have some important things to do sometimes that keep us from following God the way we want. Some things that just need attending to first so that we can be really ready to start. When I read this passage, I want to say, “Hey Jesus - isn’t at least a good thing that these folks want to follow you? Isn’t it better that they want to follow you but just aren’t quite ready yet, than not wanting to follow you at all?” As soon as I ask that question in my head though, I hear my mother telling me about an interaction with another parent, a friend of my mom’s, years ago. This friend’s daughter had gotten in trouble on the bus at school, along with another young person. The woman’s daughter was a church-going child from a fairly well-to-do family, and the other child in trouble was just the opposite. When relaying the story, my mom’s friend said, ʺWell, at least I know that my daughter knew better, so that gives me comfort.ʺ My mom said to her, ʺBut doesn’t that make it worse? If the other kid didn’t know better, he can hardly be blamed for his behavior. But your child knew what was right, and still chose to misbehave.ʺ My mom’s response, as you might suspect, did not win her any points with her friends.  
My mom’s story makes me think about discipleship. If we know Jesus, if we know enough to have decided that we want to follow Jesus, I’m afraid, friends, that this doesn’t mean that Jesus goes easier on us. Rather, if we already know what is right, and how we mean to give our hearts and lives to Jesus, I think that means that in turn Jesus will expect more from us. If we know that God is the source of our being, the creator of all that is, and that God has called us to serve God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and if we believe that we want to make God’s way our way, and if we believe that in following Jesus we find abundant life, and find a way to work for the wholeness of the world that is God’s reign come to earth - if we know all that, and still want to put off actually following Jesus, isn’t that worse than not yet being sure about Jesus? Well, if not worse, exactly, I do believe this: just like the child who knew better on the school bus had more responsibility to behave rather than less, if we know Jesus and know that we want to commit our lives to following him, Jesus, it turns out, will expect more of us, not less. Elsewhere in the scriptures, Jesus says that to those who have been given much, they will receive even more, and I think this is the “more” Jesus means - more expectation of commitment, more responsibility. If we say we’re ready to follow Jesus because we know who Jesus is and know how following Jesus is the very purpose of our being, then Jesus expects us to start following. Not tomorrow. Not eventually. Not when we’ve got everything else settled. Not when we’ve just tied up some loose ends. But right now.
Rereading our gospel text, I notice that the second and third folks who come and say they want to follow Jesus, they start their “Yes, but” responses to Jesus like this: “Yes, but first let me.” “But first.” No matter how we shake it, these things we put into the “but first” category when God calls us are just that - things that we put first. God has some strong feelings about what we put first in our lives. We’ve talked more than once about idols. Consistently in the scriptures, one of the things we are warned against again and again is making idols, practicing idolatry. Although we might not relate as much to ancient peoples who crafted handmade images of other gods to worship, at the heart of it, idolatry is really whenever we give anything other than God the place of God in our life. When we let anything else hold the place in our heart, our lives, our world, that is meant to be for God, when we worship anything other than God, when we center our lives around something other than God - that’s idolatry. And from Genesis to Revelation, this is the sin that is most dire, the one that most often results in a breakdown of the covenant between God and God’s people.
I wonder: what is really first in your life? Are we saying to Jesus, “I will follow you,” but adding our qualification, our disclaimer under our breath, perhaps hoping Jesus won’t hear? God first, but really family first. God first, but really being successful first, career first, financial well-being first. God first, but really being good citizen, or being nice and well-liked first. God first, but really comfort and safety and security first. When God calls you, and you say yes to following Jesus, what are the “buts” that are on the tip of your tongue, or muttered under your breath, or the truth you really mean instead? How do you finish this sentence to Jesus, “I will follow you, but first let me…” what? This week, friends, I encourage you - as I will too - to spend some serious time soul-searching how we’re ending our sentence to Jesus. Yes, but first what?
Karoline Lewis eventually heard more in this text than she did at first read. She writes, “I began to wonder -- what if Jesus sees the importance of time, of a minute, of even a second, not just for the sake of the urgency of his ministry, the urgency of the kingdom he wishes to bring into its fullness, the urgency of making sure that all know God’s favor before those who reject God’s favor will silence him for good, but because being human means such urgency -- every moment really does count … Every moment has to count since God made the decision to become one of us. Jesus’ call is not an insensitive plea to abandon that which is important to us, who matter to us, make a difference for us. Jesus’ call to let go is a promise - that God becoming human means that moments matter. Time makes a difference. And that even seconds matter to God. Why? Not for the sake of your service alone, but for the sake of your being in the kingdom God imagines. Every moment matters because every one of us counts.”
Every one of us counts, and every moment counts. Jesus tries to convey to us a sense of urgency. The good news doesn’t have time to wait. The world needs the message of Jesus right now. Look around. Look at the news. Look at the headlines. Look at our nation. Look at our community. Look at our congregation. Look at your own life. We need the message of Jesus, the news about God’s reign on earth, the good news of God’s grace and favor and God’s way that rejects the ways of greed and selfishness and oppression and we need it now. And so Jesus needs disciples, messengers of the good news right now. People who are ready to say “But first you God, and then everything else can come next.” Putting God first is not easy. It is not just saying with our lips that Jesus is number one for us. It’s the daily call of discipleship to follow Jesus with everything we’ve got, trusting in God’s unwavering love and grace, trusting that if we put God first, God will always be with us.
What’s first in your life, really? What’s holding you back from saying Yes to God with your whole heart? What are your “Yes, buts”? Can we work to make God first? God is seeking disciples. Will you follow Jesus, now? Will you make God first? Amen.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Festival of Homiletics: Jacqui Lewis and M. Craig Barnes

More Festival of Homiletics catch up. Jacqui Lewis preached a sermon titled,
"Identity Politics," based on Matthew 6:9-14, Jesus sharing what we call the Lord's Prayer. I didn't take a ton of notes during worship, but the sermon was excellent. Lewis's style was extremely engaging. We were roaring with laughter, but her points still hit home - there was a lot of poignant truth in the midst of the humor.
Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis
Lewis spoke about Jesus being born in scandal. "We have let the world whiten up and nicen up that baby, who was brown enough to go undercover in Egypt." Our salvation, Lewis said, is corporate: "We're not saved until everyone is saved." We develop theologies of "it will all get better" in light of our current realities, but Jesus says in his prayer "now." Of God's reign on earth, God's "now," Lewis says she knows what it looks like: It looks like a "die-in" of activists saying "I can't breathe," referencing the death of Eric Garner at the hands of police. "It tastes like sweet Hawaiian bread."

"Safe preaching is too costly," Lewis said. "We don’t have the luxury of that. We’re on the precipice." And, "We have the gift of liberated tongues."

 M. Craig Barnes
M. Craig Barnes
I've heard M. Craig Barnes preach and lecture before at the Festival. I found him particularly compelling this time around. He lectured on “Preaching in the Age of Anxiety," focusing on Matthew 4.

We are judged in so many places by others and self, Barnes said, and what we see is not good. So we go out to be judged by John the Baptist. John points to Jesus, but Jesus doesn’t even have a winnowing fork! And this one who is without sin identifies totally with us. And when he is baptized, God is "so-pleased" with Jesus. When Jesus is identified with us in baptism, God says that Jesus is "beloved of God," which claims us as God's beloved too, not because we are judged good enough, but because we’ve always belonged to God, and in Christ, God has found us.

We’re anxious, though, Barnes argued. We wonder: is God really saying this about us? Are we really beloved?

The first temptation of Satan for Jesus is not to eat, but to not be hungry. We are always hungry. It is when we reach for what is not given to us by God that we destroy the garden, Barnes said. "We always sacrifice freedom out of our anxiety." Barnes spoke about the anxiety of the privileged class. We are enslaved by desire for happiness and fulfillment. Sure the next thing will fill us up. This is how Satan tempts Jesus, with his conditional language: If you are the son of God…” But our yearning is necessary. Yearning is a part of our created condition that is meant to be an embrace and a call to worship. We shouldn't communicate that yearning will be eliminated. But it can be focused. We're meant to be yearning for God.

The second temptation is the temptation of certainty. At the top of the temple, Satan says, "if God catches you, then you can be certain that God loves you." We would love to be certain! "But few things are more dangerous to our spirituality than certainty. We live by faith not by certainty." The more certain you become the less room you have for faith, God, and one another. Creeds don’t start, “I know” but “I believe.” We crave certainty of one miracle, Barnes said, but it would be deadly to our souls. Jesus is harder on those of us with a little faith than on those of us with no faith at all.

Speaking to a room of pastors, Barnes said that we love to do well at the church and are tempted, then, to be necessary at the church. To be the messiah at the church. But, being necessary robs us of being chosen. "You’re too important to be necessary. You are cherished by God. We can’t cherish things that are necessary. Cherishing comes as a choice, but if it is necessary there is no choice." We should stop knocking selves out to be necessary, Barnes urged. It is also futile, he insisted, to think that what you want is to be protected. That isn’t what we really want. We want to be loved. If we are loved, we can live with the insecurity of all life.

In the third temptation, Satan says, "I’ll give you all the kingdoms if you worship me." Jesus doesn’t say, “I don’t want those.” Devil wants to tempt us with our goals – let me help you with what would really tempt us. To clergy, "I can give you pastoral success." The devil says, "You have to ease up, though, on your high ideals. You just have to be a little complicit with 'the way it is!'" The temptation is the devil saying, "Be realistic. This is the best it can be." The temptation is to demonize others, other Christians. But, Barnes reminded us, "Not only do we allow sinners in our congregation, but frankly, that’s only who we allow in. And we say to each other, 'In Jesus Christ you are forgiven.'" “If you find a church like this," Barnes said, that doesn't want anyone who is a sinner (however they qualify that word), "they don’t need a pastor." And for pastors who say they want a congregation that already has it all together? "It’s like saying want you to be a doctor, but don't want to be around sick people."

Barnes concluded with a reminder that there is a stark difference between truth and clarity. "You can be flagrantly racist and clear about what you think. Truth is often found in nuance, in places that are not so clear." A thought-provoking lecture. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sermon, "Saying Yes to God: Yes and No," Matthew 21:28-32

Sermon 6/10/18
Matthew 21:28-32

Saying Yes to God: Yes and No

Today we’re starting a new sermon series called “Saying Yes to God.” The giveaway, the ultimate point of the series is right in the title: I want us to be equipped to say “Yes” to God when God calls us - whether God is calling us to get to know God better, or calling us to be a follower of Jesus, or whether God is calling us to a particular path or task or ministry, or whether God is calling us to stand up with a bold voice and bold actions, or whether God is calling us to turn away from sin, turn away from destructive ways of life. However God is calling us, the spoiler is: I want us to be ready to say Yes to God. So for the next few weeks, we’ll be thinking about how we can do that, what holds us back from saying yes, what will help us say yes with our whole hearts. Today, we’re specifically thinking about how sometimes we seem to say both Yes and No to God at the same time. Yes with our lips, and no with our hearts. Yes with our words and no with our actions.
In our gospel lesson today, our second text from Matthew is set during what we call Holy Week, just after Jesus enters Jerusalem, greeting by adoring fans, and just before Jesus is arrested, tried, and crucified. Just a few weeks ago we heard another gospel lesson set in this time frame, and remember that this time for Jesus is filled with particularly tense interactions with the religious leaders, to whom Jesus speaks more directly and critically than ever. Jesus tells this parable from inside the temple. When he enters the temple to teach, the chief priests and elders, the religious leaders of the temple, come over to him immediately and question where he gets his authority to teach. Jesus, who often answers questions with questions, tells them that he’ll answer if they answer a question of his, also a question about authority in its way. Jesus asks them if the baptism John the Baptist proclaimed had a heavenly or a human origin. The religious leaders realize that either answer puts them in a bind - either the people who thought John was a prophet will be mad at them, or they will have to explain why they said they didn’t believe what John was preaching. They tell Jesus they can’t answer. And he says that neither will he answer their questions about authority.  
This is what sets Jesus up to share today’s parable. A man has two sons. The man goes to the first and says, “Go, son, and work in the vineyard today.” The son says, “I will not.” But later, he changes his mind and goes anyway and works. The father says the same to the second son: “Go and work in the vineyard today. And this son agrees, saying, “I go, sir.” But later he changes his mind and doesn’t go after all. “Which,” Jesus says, “did the will of his father?” The audience, presumably still the religious leaders, responds that the first - the one who said no but actually went and worked - is the one who did his father’s will. And Jesus concludes: “ Truly, tax-collectors and prostitutes,” two groups of people commonly pointed out as “known sinners” in the society of Jesus’ day, “Truly [they] are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came in the way of righteousness and you didn’t believe him, but they did. And even after you saw it,” he says, “you still didn’t change your mind and believe.”
When I read this parable, I can’t get over how timeless it is. I’m trying to plan a family vacation. My great aunt took my brother Jim to Disney World when he was 13, and I have long-promised to my nephew that I would take him to Disney World someday too. And here he is, 11 years old already. So I’ve been trying to coordinate to get my whole family there. It’s been a challenge. My brother Todd is on a college academic year schedule, and my niece and nephew are on the school calendar, and no one wants to go in the summer when it might be very hot, and Jim is worried about getting time off of work at times he requests because he’s a newer employee where he works, but finally, we managed to settle on January of 2020 as a time when we could all travel together. And after all this, the best commitment to these dates I can get from my brother Jim is, “I don’t have anything else on the calendar for those dates right now. I’m free as of right now.” I keep telling him that all he needs to do, then, is to put this on his calendar, and then he’ll remember not to schedule anything else at the same time. I want him to make this the priority, and to set aside the time for this. To say, “I can’t do that - I have family vacation scheduled for those dates” if someone else tries to claim his time for that week. But so far, he’s not quite willing to commit.
How many of you have been frustrated by someone making a commitment, RSVPing yes, only to be disappointed when they don’t actually show up after all? How many of you have done this yourself - committed to something, but not followed through in the end? How many of you have been unwilling to even RSVP until you knew what other good options you might have for that same time period, or been on the receiving end of that behavior? I know I’m guilty of it. I think about the practice of RSVPing to invitations we receive. RSVP means “Respondez s’il vous plait” - “respond if you please” in French. Most invitations - from formal invitations to informal facebook event invites ask us to respond with our intention to attend or not. I just went through this with inviting friends and family to my brother’s wedding shower - I sent paper invitations and facebook invites. And some folks answered right away, and some folks never answered at all, and some folks used the facebook option that is probably the most frustrating: the one where you can just check “interested,” which can mean anything about whether you can be expected to attend. And sure enough, in the days, even the hours before the actual shower, there was a bit of shuffling: people who we thought weren’t coming who were after all, and people who had initially RSVPed yes, but who weren’t actually going to attend. It’s frustrating, and makes planning a challenge, when people won’t commit, or they won’t honor their commitments. It can make us, the ones who are trying to organize these events, feel like we’re just an option on a list of many possible plans for folks - and maybe an option that is pretty low on the list.
To be clear: I’m not trying to cast blame without recognizing my own shortcomings.  I remember that when I was in seminary, I had a friend Niurca who asked me to hang out with a group of people on a certain evening that week. And I was reluctant - in fact unwilling - to agree too many days in advance. Truthfully, I didn’t want to commit to going with her until I knew what the guy I had a crush on was doing. I wanted to be where he was going to be. My friend Niurca called me out on my behavior immediately. She was angry and hurt that I wouldn’t choose outright to commit to spending time with her, that she was going to be my second-choice, the place I would go only if the person I really wanted to spend my time with was unavailable. If I had just said “No thank you” to her invitation, I’m sure that would have been better than hurting her by letting her know she was just a back-up plan. Or better yet, I could have said “yes” and gone with her and let her know that her friendship was valuable to me too, showing it with my actions.  
We know the saying: “Actions speak louder than words.” Words speak pretty loud already, friends. Our words are important. But over time, people will believe not what we say we will do, but what we actually do. I wonder: what do our words and actions tell us about our commitment to our relationship with God? What do our words and actions say about our commitment to follow Jesus? Is our willingness to commit to God - and follow through on that commitment - deep or shallow? I want, friends, for us to have a deep life of faith, a growing life of faith, a level of commitment to following Jesus that expands the more we get to know Jesus, the more we let Jesus into our hearts, the more we are willing to listen to God and God’s word and let God guide us. Sometimes, though, we’re quick to say “Yes” to God because we think that’s the right thing, but we get distracted by other options, or afraid of our “yes”, or we’ve really put following God on a list of possible plans and only plan to follow through if no better invitations come along. It’s tempting to say “Yes” to God with our lips, but “no” with our hearts and actions.
The funny thing about this parable is that both sons refuse their father - one in words, and one with actions. Expanding the metaphor, everybody in the story refuses God at some point or other on their journey. But our “NOs” to God aren’t the whole story, and they definitely don’t have to be the end of the story. David Lose writes, “I hear in this parable the surprising possibility of hope that someone who has refused to listen to God may yet change his/her mind. Hope that it’s never too late to respond to the grace of the Gospel. Hope that one’s past actions or current status do not determine one’s future. Hope that even those whom good folk … have decided are beyond the pale of decent society are never, ever beyond the reach of God. If this is so,” he concludes, “then perhaps … what we might proclaim … is that no matter what may have happened in the past, yet God is eager to meet us in the present and offer us – indeed, secure – an open future.” It is never too late to say yes to God with words, heart, soul, and life. It is never too late to say yes to God.
So what do your words say - and what do your actions say about the depth of your commitment to God? To following Jesus? To serving and loving God and neighbor? Our challenge is to be very honest with ourselves and with God: where are we saying yes with our lips, but just responding “interested” with our hearts? Where are we sending in our RSVPs to God, but never really showing up to the relationship? God has room for you at the party - sinners and prostitutes and tax collectors and chief priests and elders and disciples and you and me. God’s promise is heaven on earth, God’s reign on earth and in heaven. I promise, that’s the best invitation we’re going to get. Let’s say yes together. And then show up, day by day, to life with God. Amen.  

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Festival of Homiletics: Otis Moss, III and Ginger Gaines-Cirelli

Still catching up on Festival of Homiletics reflections. Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III gave an excellent lecture titled "A Handbook for A New Nation: Living Justly and Loving Powerfully in a Fractured America," although I took few notes. Moss said, "The pulpit is not meant to just be a place where we are cheerleaders. We have to be coaches. We want not just to encourage, but help people be better players." He said that the truth is that the church is now in conflict with Christ.

 Otis Moss III
Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III
Too often, he said we (in the church) are tools of the Empire. When so, we are always in conflict with Christ. When are we choosing to be the taillight instead of the headlight as the church? He said we have to "cast out the sanitized Jesus, the cute Jesus. [Sanitized Jesus] never shows up in Selma." Preachers need to leave some blood on the pulpit, he said. 

Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli

Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, lead pastor at Foundry United Methodist Church preached a sermon titled “Stop Speaking Smooth Things," based on Isaiah 30:8-18. Again, I didn't take a lot of notes, but her sermon was compelling. The people don’t want to hear the truth in Isaiah, she said. "Don’t tell us the truth," they plead. "Speak to us smooth things!!" Pastors get this same demand in churches – and it wields great power. Gaines-Cirelli quoted Otis Moss – “The church is nothing more than capitalism in drag.” It is time to stop, Gaines-Cirelli exclaimed. Time to stop speaking smooth things in light of war – stop preaching to appease the big pledgers, stop failing to name the pain and ask the real questions, stop speaking smooth things.