Sunday, June 27, 2021

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B, "Good Intentions," 2 Corinthians 8:7-15

 Sermon 6/27/21

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

Good Intentions

My older brother is a great writer. He’s six years older than me, and when we were growing up, I always wanted to do everything he did. He was always entering the annual writing contest put on by the teacher’s association, and he won three out of the four years he entered. I loved his stories, and so naturally, I wanted to write stories too. So I worked really hard on my submission for the teacher’s association contest. I still remember my story. But I had a bad habit when it came to creative writing. I would have a good plan for my story - I knew the characters’ names and what I wanted to see happen, the plot. And I would have a great beginning, if I do say so myself - I set the premise up clearly, used a lot of details, and created the world for my characters. But then, I got kind of in a hurry. I didn’t give enough attention to the middle of the story, where all the hard work of plot development should be, and I wanted to rush ahead to the ending. I skipped over the conflict and wrestling, skipped over the details and subtleties, and moved straight to wrapping everything up before it had really even unfolded. Maybe you can think of a story like the ones I used to write - too rushed, not enough development, skipping important parts, a promising beginning that just doesn’t pan out? I was a huge fan of the Hunger Games novels, but I was let down by the final book in the series, because I felt like the author just suddenly was in a big hurry at the end of the novel. There was a big crisis - but it resolved almost “off screen” or “off page,” not inviting the readers into the messy details, skipping instead quickly through the last bits and getting to a kind of epilogue that was less satisfying because of the rushed pace. Personally, I like to think that I got better at writing over time, but I still tend to stick to other kinds of writing - sermons, for example - and leave the story writing to my brother. 

I was thinking about this when I read some of Paul’s words in his letter to the Corinthians. He says to them, “The best thing you can do right now is to finish what you started last year and not let those good intentions grow stale. Your heart’s been in the right place all along. You’ve got what it takes to finish it up, so go to it.” One of Paul’s goals in his letter to the Corinthians is to convince them to continue in a process they’ve started but apparently abandoned. They were taking up a collection to provide financial support for their parent church, the church of Jerusalem. But somehow, they’ve gotten distracted from their intentions, and they never gave what they meant to give. Paul wants them to reclaim their purpose, follow through on their commitments, and do what they said they would do. The Corinths remind me of myself, starting out strong, but petering out along the way. But there are people counting on them. The church in Jerusalem needs them to be faithful to what they’ve said they would do. They’re depending on the resources the Corinthians have pledged. And Paul wants to inspire the Corinthians to finish strong on the goals they’ve set. 

Maybe you can relate. I think a lot of churches might relate to Paul’s letter in this season. How many plans and visions did churches have percolating before the pandemic hit that came to a screeching halt? Churches are reopening in lots of ways as things finally seem to be getting better, but a lot has grown stale along the way. And then you compound the struggles with the pandemic with a pastoral transition? Exponentially hard to stay committed when it feels like everything is changing. I’ve been thinking about the strange time in pastoral appointments in the United Methodist Church when you know your pastor is leaving, but they haven’t left yet. For both pastor and congregation, it feels like a tenuous, liminal season, where you’re not really here or there, but stuck in between, not able to hold on to the past, but not sure where the future is leading either. I know as a pastor I worked hard in those seasons not to be a “lame duck pastor” with a “lame duck congregation” - just kind of coasting along until the next pastor came along. But wow, it was hard to fight the inertia, and I know that the challenges of being church in the midst of a pandemic only make it more difficult. 

So here you are, St. Paul’s - gathering for worship in what are hopefully the waning months of a global pandemic, having said a farewell to Pastor Teressa, and not yet officially pastored by Pastor Beckie. You’ve had visions and plans and hopes and dreams that you were no doubt working hard on - as a congregation, as individual disciples, and in the larger Christian community. But how is your progress? Are some of your intentions stale? 

Paul reminds us that the need is as great as ever. And we can just look around us in this world to identify places of great need. Our denomination is in turmoil and people continue to be excluded from full participation because of their sexual orientation. We’re wrestling with racism, and our unwillingness to confront white supremacy means that some don’t even want us to be able to teach and talk about racism in educational settings. We’re engaged as a nation in relentless acts of war and military aggression. The gap between the rich and the poor grows and grows. Our planet is sweltering under the weight of climate change and relentless consumption of finite resources. Oof, it’s a lot. The worlds’ need is great. Our need for the message of Jesus, for the promise of God’s life-changing, world-changing, limitless grace and love is evident. Can you find it in you to recommit to your good intentions to be disciples who are ready to give your all to carry through on the hopes and dreams you’ve already been nurturing?  

To be clear, recommitting to your purpose and vision doesn’t mean you can just stick to your previous plans without any adjustments. I don’t think that’s what Paul’s trying to say, and we know that to be true from experience, too, even if we forget to draw on that experience sometimes. I’ll give you another example from my writing life. I’m currently back in school - I’m working on a PhD at Drew Theological School. I do a lot of writing these days, but more academic and less dramatic storytelling. Still, academic writing needs to flow and develop and have a clear beginning and middle and end too. And you have to have your thesis statement, your focus, your purpose, and then you have to make sure the whole rest of the paper keeps tying back to that thesis. I was writing a paper this spring, and I felt like I had a great illustration, a great example of what I was writing about, drawn from one of my other classes. I was a teaching assistant this past year, and the course I worked with focused in part on Wikipedia - what kinds of knowledge are on Wikipedia, and how knowledge is shared, and how it can be improved. It was fascinating. And I thought I could use a great example from what I learned about Wikipedia in the paper for a class I was taking. I wrote it all out, about 3 pages of my total paper. I really liked it. But there was a little voice in my head telling me it didn’t fit with the rest of the paper. The rest of the paper went a different direction and it didn’t fit. The Wikipedia example didn’t really add to my thesis. It was kind of a distraction. Still, I stuck with it, committed. And then I had my friend edit my paper, and they said to me, “This stuff about Wikipedia doesn’t fit.” Sigh. And then I did something I hate doing when I’ve already worked hard on a piece of writing: I deleted it. It wasn’t working. It was off topic. Interesting, but irrelevant. Maybe eventually it will work for something else, but it wasn’t right for this thesis in this paper this time around. 

A post-pandemic or nearly post-pandemic church under the leadership of a new pastor doesn’t necessarily require a new thesis, a new mission, a new vision. Your commitments of discipleship, of changing the world, of being a voice for justice, or sharing the boundaryless love of God in Christ - those are the good intentions Paul doesn’t want to see grow stale, the intentions that Paul calls you to nurture to a good finish. But a post-pandemic or nearly post-pandemic church under the leadership of a new pastor is probably going to require some changes to your strategies. You might have to refine, and refocus. You might have to hit “delete” on some things if you find they’re leading you away from your purpose. I think the church - not just this one - but Church with a capital C - is going to have to adapt, adapt, adapt in the days to come. Certainly, the early faith communities to whom Paul wrote did a lot of adapting, too, in their rapidly changing world. 

But Paul has advice for that too, naturally. He encourages the Corinthians to bring out their best. He says they do well in many things. They trust God. They’re articulate and insightful. They’re passionate and loving.  They’re generous. And they have a lot of material resources. They’re well equipped, spiritually and materially. And with all those resources and attributes at their disposal, they have all they need to carry out their purpose. What do you have? In these days when you are preparing for ministry with Pastor Beckie, I encourage you to be thinking about that - not abstractly, but concretely: What gifts, assets, talents, resources - spiritual and material - does this congregation have that will help you stay committed to your mission and ministry? What tools do you have at your disposal that will help you carry out all that you’ve planned to do, despite the enormous challenges facing faith communities? What blessings, what abundance, what surplus do you count up that can be put to work for God, and help you keep coming back to your thesis, your reason for being? I know that Pastor Beckie will be delighted to see the fruit of the ministry Pastor Teressa had among you, to see your faithfulness to the work already begun among you, and to hear about the gifts you have to use so that you can be ready, in spite of all the challenges, to nurture good intentions to even better realities. 

As you prepare for this new season in your life together, may God be with you, reminding you of the hopes and dreams you have together, calling you to carry on with the work of the gospel for the sake of the waiting world. Amen. 

Benediction: The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you. With love, the Apostle Paul.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B, "Open Wide Your Hearts," 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

 Sermon 6/20/21

2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Open Wide Your Hearts

Our scripture focus for today has long seemed to me like it was meant for United Methodist Churches in the midst of pastoral transition. Paul was one the first itinerant pastors of the church, serving in different faith communities for periods of time and then moving on to establish new ministries elsewhere. He spent just about a year and a half in Corinth helping to build the congregation, and teaching people about being disciples of Jesus. Paul does visit Corinth again, while he’s serving in Ephesus, but his initial 18 months with the Corinthians is the time he builds his primary relationship with them. But of course, he continues to hold them in his heart, and continues to seek out the best for them as a growing community of faith. 2 Corinthians has somewhat confusing origins, as scholars debate whether it is one letter or multiple letters Paul wrote to the community that have been put together over time. But what is clear is that it is written after he has spent his primary time in Corinth, probably while he’s serving in still yet another community, like Philippi or Thessalonica in Macedonia. Our text today ends with one of my favorite phrases in the scriptures. Paul tells the Corinians: “Open wide your hearts,” and I love that beautiful, powerful message, and I think wide-open hearts is a good position for a congregation about to receive a new pastor. 

But, these beautiful words come as part of what is overall a difficult letter. The young church at Corinth has had a lot of conflicts, a lot of people vying for authority in their congregation, and they’ve laid a lot of accusations at Paul’s feet, unhappy with some of his leadership, questioning his motives. Paul has a lot of things to say to them in return, throughout his letters, and it is clear the Corinthians are not always really excited to receive his words. Paul doesn’t deny that he’s been an imperfect leader. And frankly, I have personally always struggled with Paul - because he can’t seem to stop talking about how awesome he is, all while insisting that he’s not being boastful. I’m not surprised the Corinthians felt like they’d had enough of Paul’s scolding. But I can’t deny that Paul’s absolute passion and commitment is to the good news of Jesus. He doesn’t want anything to get in the way of the Corinthians claiming the gift of God’s grace, experienced through their discipleship, their following Jesus, and his tone is urgent, pleading, persuading. Nothing and no one can be an obstacle to their experiencing the life-changing impact of God’s grace, and we must make sure we are not obstacles to anyone else experiencing the transformational power of Christ either

Paul has been telling the Cornithians that disciples of Jesus are new creations in Christ when we start to see things not from our human point of view, but from God’s point of view. In our text for today, Paul urges the Corinthians not to accept the grace of God in vain, not to accept God’s grace without, in a sense, putting in good work and reaping the benefits. “Now is the day of salvation!” Paul says, quoting from Isaiah. We can embrace God’s gift right now. God’s saving love can change our lives right now, not just in some heavenly future. Paul then goes on to describe the suffering he’s been through for the sake of the gospel, telling the spiritual means by which he has remained faithful: he’s been through afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger, treated as imposters, punished, and more. But Paul and his companions have sought to remain pure, knowledgeable, patient, kind, holy, genuine, and truthful by the power of God. His list is both an impressive sign of his absolute devotion to proclaiming Christ, and an example of that bragging “look how awesome” tone he has that drives me crazy. Nonetheless, Paul concludes this section that draws my reflection, “we’ve spoken frankly to you; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return – I speak as to children – open wide your hearts also.”

I’ve been thinking about what Paul says here – that he and his colleagues have no restrictions on their affection – their hearts are wide open. He wants the Corinthians to do the same – to open wide their hearts. This is what Paul means when he speaks at first about not accepting God’s grace in vain. In order to get the full effect of God’s grace, God’s free love, your hearts have to be open wide enough to receive it. No restrictions. And for Paul, who follows the teachings of Jesus, we can’t have unrestricted, loving, hearts open wide to God unless we also have unrestricted, loving, hearts open wide to one another. And so I’m wondering, how wide open are our hearts? What restrictions are there on your heart? On your affection? On your willingness to give yourself to God and for God to one another? 

My Uncle Bill has shared with me that when he and my aunt were expecting their second child, he went to my grandfather in distress, and said, “I don’t know how I can do it. I love my firstborn so much, and I don’t know if I have room to love a second child as much as I love the first.” He was so worried that he wouldn’t be able to show child #2 the same kind of total love he had for child #1. My grandfather, father of five children, all of whom he loved with all his heart, assured him that he would find his heart expanded quite nicely to love another child with all his heart too. Your heart expands and expands and expands and you find you have quite enough room for your heart to be completely filled again with this new life, this new child. That’s the vision I have of how God wants us to understand love, and certainly how God loves us. Love expands. Hearts can hold so much love. Just think of the Grinch’s heart in the Christmas story, getting larger and larger. Our hearts can expand like that, just as God’s heart has infinite room to expand to love and hold each one of us, flaws and all. Our hearts aren’t meant to function with restrictions. They’re meant to be wide open. Actually, you can even think of the medical, physical analogy when we think about our hearts: people get sick when their arteries are clogged, when their heart can’t pump blood through our bodies like it is supposed to. The heart works best when all the avenues in and out are free and clear and wide open.

So, the question for us, what we have to ask ourselves is: Do we have restrictions on our hearts, or are they wide open? In our faith journeys, in our discipleship, and in this congregation and ministry in this place, this community, that’s the question to ask: are there restrictions on our hearts? What if, at the core of everything you do, every decision you make as a congregation, every choice you made as individuals, every juncture you come to, you ask yourself: how would “opening our hearts wider” look in this situation? Are there any restrictions here? What could you do here to open our hearts wider?

Our itinerant system, where pastors are sent from place to place, is hard - on pastors and families and congregations. Can you commit to opening your heart to Pastor Sherri and her leadership? Being a church these days in our rapidly changing world means that we have to struggle to adapt, to change how we do things in order to share the love of Christ in ways that others will hear. I think of John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, who had a great disdain for “field preaching” - preaching anywhere other than inside a church building - but he felt like in order to share the love of God in Christ, he had to commit to a practice he personally abhorred, but that he knew might reach new people. His heart was open to them, to God, and to a new way of doing things. How wide open is your heart? What stumbling blocks can be removed to unclog your hearts and open them wide to what God wants to do here? What ways of ministry are you being called to embrace that might not be your cup of tea, but might yet be ways of embracing and sharing the grace of God? In our individual lives, in our congregations and communities and nations, how have we restricted our affections, our hearts? Do we restrict and hold back from loving those who have a different political perspective than we do? Do we restrict our affections and hold back our hearts based on sexual orientation or gender identity? Based on race? Based on citizenship status? Based on income? Based on appearance? Based on ability or intelligence? Paul says when we do that, when we restrict our hearts, restrict our love, it is like accepting God’s grace in vain - taking God’s amazing, free, limitless gift, and making it worth nothing, because we haven’t let it shape us, transform us, make us new in Christ, and we’ve made stumbling blocks for others in their relationship with God too.  

What if we just open our hearts wide, and trust God enough to love without restriction?  Imagine what might happen to this congregation if there were never restrictions on our loving. Imagine what might happen in your life – to you, to me – if we never put restrictions on love but just opened wide our hearts? Imagine what might happen to the world if we always acted in whatever way meant the least restrictions on how we love God and one another, until we could claim, like Paul, that our hearts were wide open. To me, this is really what the journey of discipleship is about – we follow Jesus best when we work on opening our hearts wider and wider. I believe that Jesus had the heart that was the most opened to God’s love, God’s will, God’s plan. Jesus opened his heart so wide that there was room for everyone – everyone in his heart. And so if we want to follow Jesus, if we want to be like him, if we want to know what God wants us to do, it’s simple really: open your hearts. Wherever you find yourself, whatever you’re doing, ask yourself how you can love without restriction. Sometimes, we’ll find that opening our hearts is a risky thing. Paul certainly did. He literally put his life on the line to open his heart. He wasn’t always popular. Communities ran him out of town more than once. He was thrown into prison. He made other church leaders mad. He still drives me a little crazy. But Paul didn’t consider those things particularly important, because he wanted most of all to take full advantage of the grace given him by God.

Don’t you, too, want the full measure of God’s grace? Then open wide your hearts. It might be risky. Sometimes you’ll find it easier to put restrictions – subtle or explicit – on your heart, who you love, how you love them, when you love, how much you love. Sometimes, opening wide your heart will put you in conflict with others who aren’t ready for it. But I promise, an open heart is worth all the risk, because an open heart is something God can fill up again, and again, and again, when we realize our amazing, limitless capacity to love and be loved. Open wide your hearts. Amen.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B, "We Honor the Gifts," 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

 Sermon 6/13/21

2 Corinthians 5:11-21

We Honor the Gifts

For the past year, I’ve been using a devotional book called Renew My Heart: Daily Wisdom from the Writings of John Wesley. I consider myself a bit of a John Wesley nerd, but I’m learning a lot about the nuances of Wesley’s prolific writing. I’m currently in a section that is reading through his sermon called “The More Excellent Way,” which I’m mostly finding challenging and inspiring. But I got frustrated with one particular section, because Wesley describes those who fail to embrace the “more excellent way” of discipleship as a “lower order of Christians.” And while he says that they are not “in the high road to hell” for failing to consistently choose the more excellent way, he does say that they will “not have so high a place in heaven” and they will have “fewer stars in their crown of glory” than if they’d chosen better. (1) Apparently, in Wesley’s mind, there will still be a hierarchy in heaven. That sounds kind of terrible, doesn’t it? Even in God’s eternal home, to be worried about who has the best place? Of course, thinking of hierarchies in heaven isn’t entirely an unknown concept even in the scripture. Remember when James and John want to make sure they get the best places - at Jesus’s side - in eternity? I can’t imagine the “confidence” needed to assume I’d get to be closest to Jesus. I’m thankful, though, that hierarchies and Jesus don’t seem to mesh well. Whenever we’re sure we’ve figured out who is best and who is worst, who is first and who is last, who should be exalted and glorified and who should be humbled and brought low, who should be served by others and who should be serving others, Jesus encourages us to flip our assumptions upside down. And he does, as always, by example. People - like we do too sometimes - wanted Jesus to be a king, a mighty ruler - but Jesus said he came to serve. People wanted Jesus to use his power and authority to fix everything - but Jesus showed instead the power of vulnerability, of pouring one’s self out for others. 

And yet, even if we agree that we don’t want hierarchies in heaven, it is really hard not to have our society built around hierarchies. Everyone in their place. Maybe we’re content with not being the best, the top of the heap, but I think we’re more attached than we want to admit to making sure that there’s at least someone we’re better than. I think it’s hard for us to let go of the idea that the only way we can be good enough - for our own sense of self, to measure up for others, to be “successful,” to be good enough for God’s love - is by being better than someone else. We’re always trying to get ahead. But we forget to ask: Get ahead of what? Get ahead of whom? What happens to those we pass by? At what cost do we get ahead? We’re climbing the ladder, and it is exhausting, and harmful, and all for the ultimate quest of being good enough, even though God tells us repeatedly that God doesn’t measure the same way we do. 

That’s our theme today. God chooses with different criteria than we do. God values differently than the world does. God has a point of view that is more than our limited human view. Too often, we try to fix this discrepancy - the difference between God’s point of view and ours - by putting God in a box and trying to make God perceive things and situations and people the way we perceive them. But our perspective is limited. Instead, the invitation to Christian discipleship is about learning to share God’s expansive, inclusive perspective, rather than limiting God to our narrow point of view. 

That’s the message of our epistle reading from 2 Corinthians. Paul is writing to the church at Corinth again. His relationship with them has been both committed and contentious. The young church at Corinth has had a lot of conflicts, a lot of people vying for authority in their congregation, and they’ve laid a lot of accusations at Paul’s feet, unhappy with some of his leadership, questioning his motives. In response, Paul writes both to explain himself and his actions and to call the Corinthians to accountability for their actions, trying to communicate with them how transformative following Jesus has been for Paul and how transformative it could be for the Corinthians if they gave themselves more completely to discipleship. In our text for today, Paul is speaking on the theme of reconciliation. Because of the love of Christ, Paul says, because of the love of Christ, exhibited in Christ’s death, a pouring out of self in which we are all called to participate, we are meant to regard each other no longer with a human point of view, but instead with God’s point of view. If we’re really in Christ, we’re new creations. Everything old has passed away, everything has become new. And as new creations, we’re ambassadors for Christ, reconciled to God in spite of our sins, so that we might practice God’s ways of justice and righteousness.

So, how can we let go of our limited human point of view, and realize that God uses a different perspective, different criteria, different values than the ones we see lifted up in so many places, than the ones we fall back on ourselves? I’ve been thinking about how hierarchies go hand in hand with categories and categorizing. If you’ve been through the conference’s Imagine No Racism training, you probably learned a lot about implicit bias. Implicit bias is the unconscious way our brains group things together in our heads, so that we can think and process and react quickly. Implicit bias is usually hidden to us - we’re not aware, moment to moment, of the associations our brains make. It is automatic. And we can’t really function without putting things into categories. We need to, to process the enormous amounts of information that come at us every day. 

You can see implicit bias at work by doing a simple test of something called the Stroop Effect, which demonstrates how our reaction times can be slowed when our brains are confronted with information that doesn’t belong together in our minds. You can find this test online if you want to try it yourself. In a Stroop test, you see first a column of block letters of all different colors, spelling out different colors. So you see some red block letters that spell RED, or the word BLUE made up of blue letters. Our brains can process that very quickly. It makes sense to us. But it doesn’t take much to confuse our minds. The next column also shows colors spelled out, but now the word and color don’t match. So you might see the word RED but the letters are colored white. Or the word BLUE is spelled out, but filled in with green coloring. If you ask people to say aloud what color these words are, not what the word spells, most people hesitate. We can do it, we can see the letters that spell RED but are colored white and eventually say WHITE, but we can’t do it as quickly as we can when the colors and words match. Our brain has associated the color and the word and we just can’t undo that association as quickly as we can do it when they’re paired together. This is implicit bias at work. We need it for our brains to function as quickly as they do. 

The trouble with our rapid categorizing comes when our brains slap together value-laden messages for us along with our categories. In Implicit Bias tests developed by social psychologists at Harvard, results of thousands of participants over time show that many people who have no explicit bias - that is, they express that they do not have feelings of racial bias - still have implicit bias. When shown images of black faces and white faces, for example, test participants more quickly and more consistently are able to match white faces and positive words like good and beautiful. Conversely, participants are speedier at matching black faces and negative words like bad, ugly, or weapon. These aren’t always explicit feelings. They don’t represent what we think we believe. But they represent how our brain has learned to group things together. Our brain does that because of messages we receive from culture, from news, from experiences, from stereotypes - all of these things that gel together in our brains. And these biases can sometimes make a difference in how we behave, even when we don’t realize why we’re behaving that way. It can make us more likely to feel afraid when we meet someone on the street whose skin color is different than ours. It can make us more likely to give a second chance to someone whose skin color our mind has paired with the idea of “good.” It can make us more likely or less likely to see someone as professional and competent at our work, without even realizing why. It can make us more likely to interrupt people if our brain has sent us the message that their words are less important than our own. It can make a police officer quicker to respond with violence rather than reconciliation when encountering black and brown faces.   

The good news is that we can have an impact on our implicit bias. We’re not just stuck with it. And we don’t just get to say we can’t help ourselves, either! We can. It turns out that the more we come into contact with people that “don’t fit” the associations that our brains tell us go together, the less power those associations have for us over time. Our implicit biases change when we are exposed to stereotype-busting images and experiences. And we don’t have to be passive in hoping we encounter things that fly in the face of the subtle messages we get elsewhere. We can mean to expose ourselves to other perspectives. We can be intentional. We can pay attention and be purposeful about not discounting voices and experiences and lessons that will help us expand our way of thinking. We can be intentional about seeking out voices and perspectives - in the books we read, in films and TV that we watch, in the relationships we build - that are different from our own, that go against what our brain is telling us to group together. 

This past year, my dear friend and roommate Hunter has been wrestling with their gender identity, and they’ve begun using they/them pronouns. After growing up in a conservative, evangelical church tradition in Oklahoma, being in the progressive setting of Drew Theological School has been both hard and liberating. I’ve found myself struggling sometimes - it’s hard to learn to see outside of the gender binary of male and female. My mind has had lots of  years of seeing gender in a certain way. I stumble with my language, sometimes using the wrong pronouns. And I’m not always good at speaking up when I hear others using the wrong pronouns. But I know my struggle to adapt is nothing compared with Hunter’s own struggle to be fully themselves. And I know that the more I practice, the more I learn, the more I commit to supporting and advocating, the more I will be able to retrain my brain to perceive in a new way. I like to think that this retraining of my brain is learning to see Hunter from God’s point of view instead of my own, limited human point of view. 

God doesn’t have implicit bias, unless in this case we’re talking about a bias of love. God’s way of looking is to encounter us and immediately encounter us in our fullness, our whole person, and then categorize us as beloved, as belonging to God, as God’s children, as of sacred worth. No hierarchy necessary, no ranking us best to worst. Jesus flips our categories inside out and our hierarchies upside down. We can resist, stubbornly insisting on finding our place in the world by figuring out what rung of the ladder we’re on and who we need to move out of the way to get to the next one. We can keep trying to put ourselves and each other and God into boxes that are uncomfortable, too small, and suffocating the life right out of us. Or we can embrace the good news that God wants to share with us a different point of view. What will we do? 

We honor the gifts that each treasure holds, make room for the light of the collective soul. Hierarchy dissolves. (2) Categories melt away. Our being in Christ remains. New creations. Thanks be to God. Amen. 

  1. Russie, Alice, compiler. Renew My Heart: Daily Wisdom from the Writings of John Wesley, Barbour Publishing Inc., 2002, p. 165.

  1. These words are drawn from the theme song for the day, "We Will Walk" by Elisa Sciscioli Keeler.

Sermon, "In Denial," Mark 8:31-37

Sermon 2/20/24 Mark 8:31-37 In Denial My sermon title is both a reflection of our gospel text for today, and a reflection of how I felt abou...