July newsletter piece

I sat down to write my July article about a topic I had chosen a few months ago:

Finding your own peace.

The original intent was to write about finding an activity that brings you a sense of peace and calm and centeredness in the midst of the chaos of summer schedules, and while I’ll certainly write that article someday, the topic struck a different chord in light of the recent tragedy at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

Instead of focusing on finding what brings us our own sense of inner peace, I want to talk about sharing and perpetuating Christ’s peace in this world – a world, as I often say, that is so desperately in need.

When I ask people about what they love about the OZ churches and, more specifically, what they love about OZ worship, many times, people tell me they love the way we pass the peace of Christ. People love that we move around. They love that we interact with each other – shaking hands, giving hugs, even giving fist bumps or some other sort of acknowledgment when we’re trying not to share germs.

And people love that we take the time. It’s not rushed. It’s not forced. We share greetings of “good morning” and “peace” with each other because we’re genuinely happy to see one another! I love explaining to visitors that this part of our service is going to take a while, and I love seeing the looks on visitors’ faces as person after person greets and welcomes them.

Connected with this treasured ritual, of course, is the song that we sing: Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me …

I grew up in a congregation that does something similar. They actively pass the peace on Sunday morning, everyone greeting one another with fondness and love before returning to their pews in the midst of a familiar song. In fact, because of the inspiration of the OZ congregations, my home congregation now uses the same song to conclude their time of passing the peace as well.

And as much as we love and cherish this ritual, it always astounds me to encounter people – pastors and parishioners alike – from other congregations who refuse to participate in this beautiful and theologically rich tradition. I find it baffling and a little bit sad that there are brothers and sisters in the body of Christ who are missing out on this meaningful opportunity.

After his resurrection but before he ascended back to heaven, Jesus passed the peace with the disciples:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
~ John 14:27

Jesus knew that there would be troubled times ahead for the disciples – times of pain, fear, frustration, anger, confusion, and all those other things that we continue to struggle with in our own society and in our own hearts. And in the face of all that darkness and scariness, Jesus said, “Peace.” We remind each other of this every Sunday morning when we share this special and sacred time with one another.

And the placement of the passing of the peace in the order of the worship service is no accident, friends. We take time to pray and to confess our struggles and our sins together, both silently and aloud. We are reminded of the grace and forgiveness afforded to us by God through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. And then, in the awareness of that grace and in recognition of God’s precious forgiveness found in each of us, we share the peace of Christ with each other.

But it doesn’t stop there. We are also charged to take that peace out into the world – to share it with the people that we know and love, the people that we meet, and even the people that we find challenging. In the face of the terrible shooting at Emanuel AME Church, the need for that peace in the face of hatred, injustice, fear, and prejudice is all the more critical. So, my friends, may the peace of Christ be with you …

Pastor Lisa sign

Sunday’s sermon: Risks of Faith


Texts used: 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

  • As the parent of two 2-yr-olds, I feel like I’m constantly telling someone to “Be careful.
    • Playing at the park – climbing, sliding, swinging (worse yet, walking near swings)
    • Riding tricycles around in the garage/driveway
    • Hauling themselves up onto changing table
    • Engaging in one of their favorite activities: “big jump!” → jumping off anything and everything they possibly can
    • And I know I’m not alone in this. Anyone who’s ever spent more than 10 minutes around kids – be they their own children, nieces/nephews, kids that you babysat, or even just standing and waiting for the bus next to some little girl or boy – you know that there seems to be something built into children that causes them to wildly abandon all caution and take whatever crazy risks pop into their minds from one minute to the next.
      • “Be careful!”
      • “Be safe!”
      • “Watch out!”
      • “Make good choices!”
      • All of these well-meaning admonitions often fall on deaf ears as we listen to squeals and giggles and triumphant ‘whoops’ as well as tumbles and crashes and wails of distress. → 2 amazing things about this reckless riskiness
        • One: the incredible heart that children put into every risk they take – It’s all or nothing!
        • Two: children’s amazing ability to bounce back, to keep trying, to get up and brush themselves off
    • So I’m going to propose that we take our inspiration from the children in our lives this morning because sometimes, friends, our faith straight out calls us to take risks.
      • 2 different kinds of risks that we find in our Scriptures this morning
        • Risks in our choices
        • Risks in our actions
  • Jesus presents us with our first risk in our gospel text this morning.
    • UP TO NOW: Jesus has been traveling and teaching and healing
    • TODAY’S PASSAGE: gets out of boat after crossing yet another large body of water designated as a ‘sea’ and met by large crowd → interrupted in the middle of teaching by Jairus – begs Jesus: “My dear daughter is at death’s door. Come and lay hands on her so she will get well and live.” And Jesus went with him.[1]
      • Jesus’ first risky choice = going with Jairus
        • Jesus’ first risky choice in this passage is actually deciding to go with Jairus in the first place. Remember how Jairus is introduced? “One of the meeting-place leaders named Jairus.” You see, even this early in his ministry, Jesus has already been hassled and challenged by just such “meeting-place leaders.” So for all he knew, Jairus could’ve been angling for even more trouble. There could’ve been some hidden agenda involved here. But still, Jesus made the choice to go with Jairus because of the strength of his faith.
          • How do we know about that strength? – Jairus: “My dear daughter is at death’s door. Come and lay hands on her so she will get well and live.”[2] → NOTICE: no qualifiers in this sentence
            • No “if it’s possible”
            • No “Can you?”
            • No “Are you able?”
            • Jairus believed, so Jesus made the choice to go.
    • Jesus 2nd risky choice = pausing in that journey – traveling to Jairus’ house with him and the whole entourage (Jesus’ disciples, Jairus and whatever servants/guards are with him, the crowd) when he’s suddenly interrupted by the hemorrhagic woman → Now, we’ll talk about this woman in a minute, but even though he knew that Jairus’ daughter was close to death and time was of the essence, Jesus chose to stop and have an interaction with this woman. He chose to spend precious time with this woman who was poor and alone and suffering.
      • Chose to pause in his critical journey to save Jairus’ daughter → led to child’s death: While he was still talking, some people came from the leader’s house and told him, “Your daughter is dead. Why bother the Teacher any more?”[3]
      • Despite this naysaying – chose to continue on and not just heal Jairus’ daughter but bring her back to life: [Jesus] clasped the little girl’s hand and said, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, get up.” At that, she was up and walking around![4]
    • Can you grasp what incredible risks of choice these were for Jesus? He chose to go with a man who could have been out to get him. He chose to associate with a woman who was a social stigma. He chose to continue on to the bedside of the now-deceased little girl and raise her from the dead! → amazing power in taking risks of choice = give us the ability to take responsibility, to forge our own path, to own our decisions and the consequences that come with them
      • Powerful and empowering → There’s a reason Frank Sinatra sang “I did it my way!” instead of “I did it whatever way someone else told me to!” When we are allowed to make those choices, to take those risks, and to follow through with whatever comes next, we find a strength and a conviction that we may not have known we possessed before that moment. And taking those risks of choice allow us to test our own belief as well as enact the power of our faith for others.
        • Part of the beauty and blessing as well as the challenge and burden of free will that God gave us – power to choose
  • Also risks of actions → Here we return to the story of the hemorrhagic woman.
    • Not clear what condition this woman was suffering from but Gr. implies it’s something along the lines of continuous menstrual bleeding → all sorts of severe ramifications in her life
      • Physical: One cannot continuously lose blood like that for 12 straight years and not appear pale, drawn, and sickly. This is the sort of condition that saps you of your strength, your energy, your vitality. And she’d been living with it for 12 years.
      • Spiritiual: Because of the continual bleeding, the woman would have been continually regarded in Jewish law as … ceremonially unclean. In order to be regarded as clean, the flow of blood would need to stop for at least 7 days. Because of the constant bleeding, this woman lived in a continual state of uncleanness which would have brought upon her social and religious isolation.[5] → No one could touch this woman or interact with her without becoming ritually unclean themselves, forcing them to go to the mikveh (the consecrated cleansing pool) for re-purification. This condition combined with her gender and her poverty (Scripture: she had spent all her money on doctors to no avail) made this woman virtually untouchable, completely and utterly marginalized.
    • Kind of woman people probably didn’t even see in the crowd anymore – ignored for so long, social pariah for so long, marginalized for so long → The crowd probably didn’t even see her edging closer and closer to Jesus. But that’s exactly what she did. Imagine how overwhelming that seemingly simple action must have been for her.
      • Emotionally: inching ever closer to Jesus as he and the disciples as they passed by – caught up in the awe and reverence and excitement and fragile hope of the moment, being so close to the one that she believed with all of her heart could truly heal her
      • Mentally/spiritually: weight of all that had been (pain, rejection, loneliness, shame) and weight of all could be (healing? wholeness? acceptance? inclusion?) equally suspended in the same moment
      • And, of course, physically: visual = basically a rugby scrum around Jesus – shuffling and chaotic mass of humanity packed in tightly against each other → This is the kind of crowd that the woman had to make it through to get to Jesus. She literally dove into that risk of action by physically reaching out to Jesus, believing with every fiber of her being that just brushing the fringe of his clothing would be enough to heal her of her terrible affliction and isolation.
        • Result: She slipped in from behind and touched his robe. … The moment she did it, the flow of blood dried up. She could feel the change and knew her plague was over and done with.[6]
    • Other risk she took = speaking up!: At the same moment, Jesus felt energy discharging from him. He turned around to the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?” …The woman, knowing what had happened, knowing she was the one, stepped up in fear and trembling, knelt before him, and gave him the whole story. Jesus said to her, “Daughter, you took a risk of faith, and now you’re healed and whole. Live well, live blessed! Be healed of your plague.”[7] → For all this woman knew, Jesus could’ve been angry with her or disgusted by her like everyone else. Maybe the disciples would’ve had her punished. Maybe the people in the crowd would take it upon themselves to punish her for such a brazen disregard of the social conventions. But still, after reaching out, she stepped out, claiming her action and her faith before Jesus.
      • Jesus’ response: “Daughter, you took a risk of faith, and now you’re healed and whole. Live well, live blessed!”
    • Incredible power of risks of action.
      • POINT OUT: difference between risky actions and risks of action à (my own distinction) risks of action include element of forethought and purpose and character-building that are distinctly lacking in plain old risky actions
        • g. – risk of action = trust fall (learn about yourself, build group dynamic, nurture trust among those in a group) à risky action = stacking 4 picnic tables on top of each other and jumping off because it’ll make an interesting YouTube video
      • Actions are definite
      • Actions are visible
      • Actions are irretrievable (can’t be undone once it’s been done)
      • Require commitment, self-assurance, courage, strength
  • And through it all, in the face of all the choices and actions that we are presented with that seem to be risks – those choices and actions that scare us, the worry us, that challenge us – we have Paul cheering us on from our other Scripture reading this morning: You do so well in so many things – you trust God, you’re articulate, you’re insightful, you’re passionate, you love us – now, do your best in this, too. … So here’s what I think: 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. Once the commitment is clear, you do what you can, not what you can’t. The heart regulates the hands. [8]
    • Original context: encouraging the Corinthian Christians to continue in their mission giving
    • Words of encouragement that could easily apply to all of those risks that we mull over
      • Remind us of God working in and through us
      • Remind us of our gifts
      • Remind us of need for our conviction to be strong in the face of risks
      • Reminds us we are in this together: This isn’t so others can take it easy while you sweat it out. No, you’re shoulder to shoulder with them all the way.[9]
  • Friends, nothing in the entirety of Scripture tells us that our faith is supposed to be safe and comfortable and carefree. Jesus wasn’t safe. Jesus wasn’t comfortable. Jesus wasn’t content to “dial it back” for the sake of those around him. In fact, he took the risks that he did exactly for the people around him and the people after them … and the people after them … and the people after them … all the way down to us. And as those who proclaim to be followers of this radical Savior, we are called to follow in those risky footsteps in order to bring God’s love, peace, and justice to this world. Amen.

[1] Mk 5:23-24.

[2] Mk 5:23.

[3] Mk 5:35.

[4] Mk 5:41-42a.

[5] Dr. John McArthur cited in “Jesus healing the bleeding woman,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_healing_the_bleeding_woman, edited 9 June 2015, accessed 27 June 2015.

[6] Mk 5:27, 29.

[7] Mk 5:30, 33-34.

[8] 2 Cor 8:7, 10-12.

[9] 2 Cor 8:13.

Sunday’s Sermon: Livin’ Large!

For a little more explanation and insight into what went into this sermon and the service that went with it, see my previous post.

Texts used: Luke 11:29-36 and 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Rev. Clementa Pinckney
Cynthia Hurd
Tywanza Sanders
Myra Thompson
Ethel Lee Lance
Rev. Daniel L. Simmons
Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor
Susie Jackson

Nine lives.
Nine beloved, treasured children of God.
Nine brothers and sisters in Christ who had gathered on a Wed. evening for a prayer meeting. A prayer meeting.
Nine men and women.
Nine black men and women.

Friends, I have to tell you that when I sat down at my desk this past Mon. morning, I sat down with the intention to write a happy sermon … an invigorating sermon … a sermon that would (hopefully) make you leave this place this morning inspired to boldly and boisterously take your faith out into the world with renewed spirits. I envisioned us leaving this sanctuary this morning with heads held high, with hearts full and spirits lifted, with blessings and praise for God’s greatness on our lips.

And then the news stories started coming in late Wed. night and throughout the day on Thursday.

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Rev. Clementa Pinckney
Cynthia Hurd
Tywanza Sanders
Myra Thompson
Ethel Lee Lance
Rev. Daniel L. Simmons
Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor
Susie Jackson

Nine lives.
Nine beloved, treasured children of God.
Nine brothers and sisters in Christ who had gathered on a Wed. evening for a prayer meeting. A prayer meeting.
Nine men and women.
Nine black men and women.

And suddenly, instead of wanting to sing loud hosannas and songs of triumphant praise, I tasted words of lament and even frustration and anger on my tongue. With the psalmist, I wanted to cry out, “God, don’t shut me out; don’t give me the silent treatment, O God. Your enemies are out there whooping it up, the God-haters are living it up; They’re plotting to do your people in, conspiring to rob you of your precious ones.”[1] Suddenly the words of the Scripture passages that I had already chosen for today were cast in an entirely new light: the horrible, glaring, painful light of a nation still battling the hatred and injustice of racism.

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Rev. Clementa Pinckney
Cynthia Hurd
Tywanza Sanders
Myra Thompson
Ethel Lee Lance
Rev. Daniel L. Simmons
Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor
Susie Jackson

Nine lives.
Nine beloved, treasured children of God.
Nine brothers and sisters in Christ who had gathered on a Wed. evening for a prayer meeting. A prayer meeting.
Nine men and women.
Nine black men and women.

I spent last weekend at the MN Conference annual meeting, the theme of which feels disturbingly prophetic at this point. It was “Going Deeper: Trusting in Sacred Conversation.” It was a theme centered around the pervasiveness and startling reality of racism that continues to plague this country 150 years after the end of the Civil War and 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement – two large-scale events that we like to hold up as steps that we have taken as a nation in the direction of equality and freedom and justice. And yet …

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Rev. Clementa Pinckney
Cynthia Hurd
Tywanza Sanders
Myra Thompson
Ethel Lee Lance
Rev. Daniel L. Simmons
Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor
Susie Jackson

Nine lives.
Nine beloved, treasured children of God.
Nine brothers and sisters in Christ who had gathered on a Wed. evening for a prayer meeting. A prayer meeting.
Nine men and women.
Nine black men and women. 

At the annual meeting, our keynote speaker was Dr. Jennifer Harvey[2], an associate professor of religion at Drake University in Des Moines, IA. Dr. Harvey told us about an interesting conversation starter that she uses with her students. It goes something like this: “What would you say if you saw a group of African-American students out on the quad holding signs that said, ‘Black is beautiful’? What if it was a group of Hispanic students holding a sign that said, ‘Latino/Latina pride’? What if it was a group of Native American students out on the quad holding signs that said, ‘Native power’? What would you say?” And after a brief pause for a few comments and short discussion, she’d ask this: “Okay, what if it was a group of white students holding a sign that said, ‘White is beautiful … White pride … White power’? What would you say then?” Her point in asking these questions is to highlight just how squeamish we continue to feel where race is concerned. And frankly, in the wake of the unthinkable violence perpetrated at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. this week, I must admit that it feels almost obscene to voice such question, to even put words like “white” and “pride” or “white” and “power” next to each other in the same sentence. But the deep-down, uncomfortable truth, friends, is that we still find the topic of race uncomfortable. We still find our preconceived notions of race uncomfortable. We still find the reality of race and racism in this country uncomfortable. … And well we should.

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Rev. Clementa Pinckney
Cynthia Hurd
Tywanza Sanders
Myra Thompson
Ethel Lee Lance
Rev. Daniel L. Simmons
Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor
Susie Jackson

Nine lives.
Nine beloved, treasured children of God.
Nine brothers and sisters in Christ who had gathered on a Wed. evening for a prayer meeting. A prayer meeting.
Nine men and women.
Nine black men and women.

In the first part of our gospel text this morning, Jesus is speaking once again to the crowds – the teeming masses that included those who loved him (his disciples, possibly some of his family, probably his fans) as well as those who despised him (the Pharisees and the Sadducees), and probably a good portion of people that hadn’t made up their minds yet – the curious on-lookers, the “looky-loos.” And in true prophetic fashion, Jesus is giving the crowd a dose of words that are hard to hear: “The mood of this age is all wrong. Everybody’s looking for proof, but you’re looking for the wrong kind. All you’re looking for is something to titillate your curiosity, satisfy your lust for miracles.”[3] He goes on to give them two examples from Israel’s history of people who had gone to great lengths to find God. He speaks first of the Ninevites – the people who were visited by the prophet Jonah (after he rode around for a couple of days in the belly of the whale) – people who, after hearing the difficult and convicting word of God that Jonah had for them, repented in sackcloth and ashes. “They proclaimed a citywide fast and dressed in burlap to show their repentance. Everyone did it – rich and poor, famous and obscure, leaders and followers.”[4] And Jesus speaks of the Queen of Sheba who traveled hundreds of miles just to avail herself of Solomon’s wisdom – a wisdom that was widely known and acknowledged by Solomon himself to have come from God Most High. These are the examples that Jesus lays before the crowd, making it clear to them that while the entire city of Nineveh repented solely based on Jonah’s word – on a stranger’s word – and while the Queen of Sheba traveled far and wide to seek out God’s wisdom, the people in the crowd, though they had more proof than the Ninevites and far less travel time than the Queen of Sheba – the people in the crowd did not believe … did not understand … did not see. They were blinded by things that didn’t matter – things that distracted them from the power of the truth that was literally staring them right in the faces.

The One. The Messiah. The Savior who had come to set all the world free.

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Rev. Clementa Pinckney
Cynthia Hurd
Tywanza Sanders
Myra Thompson
Ethel Lee Lance
Rev. Daniel L. Simmons
Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor
Susie Jackson

Nine lives.
Nine beloved, treasured children of God.
Nine brothers and sisters in Christ who had gathered on a Wed. evening for a prayer meeting. A prayer meeting.
Nine men and women.
Nine black men and women.

I have to be honest with you, the text from 2 Corinthians is what initially grabbed my attention as I was planning sermons a while back. There is so much audacity in Paul’s words here. There is so much honesty. There is so much life! “Companions as we are in this work with you, we beg you, please don’t squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us. … Don’t put it off; don’t frustrate God’s work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we’re doing.”[5] You can hear Paul’s drive – the power of his faith and his deepest, heart-felt desire for all those he encountered to feel the transformative power of God in their lives, too. He spends a good portion of the passage talking about all of the ways that having faith is hard, all of the ways that having faith doesn’t pay off, all of the struggles and the pain and the sometimes-paralyzing uncertainty, but he always does so in the light of the grace and the glory of God: “when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all.”[6] Brothers and sisters, the fact remains that the most segregated time of the week in the United States is still Sunday morning. We celebrate the glory of God, the grace of God, the forgiveness and the wholeness and the acceptance that we find in God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, and yet the fact remains that often, we cannot overcome those most basic barriers that divide us: race, ethnicity, gender, class, and so on. And this past week, we have witnessed the horrible aftermath of this division – the darkness and explosiveness of hatred in its most violent form: mass murder.

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Rev. Clementa Pinckney
Cynthia Hurd
Tywanza Sanders
Myra Thompson
Ethel Lee Lance
Rev. Daniel L. Simmons
Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor
Susie Jackson

Nine lives.
Nine beloved, treasured children of God.
Nine brothers and sisters in Christ who had gathered on a Wed. evening for a prayer meeting. A prayer meeting.
Nine men and women.
Nine black men and women.

But Paul reminds us … and Jesus reminds us … and even the family members of those who were killed this week remind us that fear and division and hate do not have to have the last word. Jesus says to the crowd (and to us), “No one lights a lamp, then hides it in a drawer. It’s put on a lamp stand so those entering the room have light to see where they’re going. Your eye is a lamp, lighting up your whole body. If you live wide-eyed in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. Keep your eyes open, your lamp burning, so you don’t get musty and murky. Keep your life as well-lighted as your best-lighted room.”[7]

Paul tells us, “The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!”[8]

And as some of the family members of those murdered in Emanuel AME Church confronted the alleged gunman in court later this week, many of them spoke of forgiveness and God’s everlasting mercy.[9] Forgiveness and God’s everlasting mercy.

Friends, for too long, we have opened our eyes to the things that separate and divide us, the things that exclude others from within our midst, the things that feed the smallness within our hearts and minds and lives. It is that same smallness that led that young man to bring a loaded gun into a prayer meeting and kill so many innocent people. It is that same smallness that makes us lock our car doors when we’re in “the wrong part of town” or cross to the other side of the street when we see someone not like us walking toward us. It is that same smallness that makes us turn a blind eye to the racism that continues to plague this nation. When we participate in the inappropriate jokes, we become smaller. When we look at others with a sense of entitlement – we’ve earned our lot in life, but they deserve theirs – we become smaller. When we pass judgment before hearing the whole story (or even any of the story), before opening our eyes and hearts to the truth, before walking a mile in the other person’s shoes, we become smaller.

But by the grace of God and God alone, we do not have to stay small. We do not have to stay divided. We do not have to allow the racism, sexism, ageism, and every other fracturing ‘ism’ in this nation to stand. Paul said, “Our work as God’s servants gets validated – or not – in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly … in hard time, tough times, bad times. … Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!”[10] People are watching us. Friends, we have the responsibility to be the example – to do the hard and uncomfortable work of tearing down those walls in our own hearts and our own lives that separate us from other people, to let the light in and banish the darkness, the smallness, the pain and prejudice and fear. We can and we must choose to stand with our brothers and sisters around this nation and indeed around the world – brothers and sisters in faith, yes, but more importantly, brothers and sisters in the human race. We can stand beside them and say to the nay-sayers, to the fear-mongers, to the plain old haters, “No. Stop. Enough.” Amen.

[1] Ps 83:1-3.

[2] Dr. Jennifer Harvey, http://www.drake.edu/philrel/faculty/jenniferharvey/.

[3] Lk 11:29.

[4] Jonah 3:5.

[5] 2 Cor 6:1, 3.

[6] 2 Cor 6:8-10.

[7] Lk 11:33-36.

[8] 2 Cor 6:12-13.

[9] Jeremy Borden, Sari Horwitz, and Jerry Markon. “From victims’ families, forgiveness for accused gunman Dylann Roof” in The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/south-carolina-governor-urges-death-penalty-charges-in-church-slayings/2015/06/19/3c039722-1678-11e5-9ddc-e3353542100c_story.html. Posted 19 June 2015, accessed 20 June 2015.

[10] 2 Cor 6:4, 13b.

Sunday’s Service for Emanuel AME Church

This was a difficult Sunday. In the depth of my very being, I couldn’t ignore the tragic mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. on Wed. night. As I sat working on my sermon on Sat. night, I stared at the screen – at the words that I had already written before Wed. night. And I couldn’t continue. So late on Sat. night, I rewrote everything – my sermon and our worship service. So instead of just posting my sermon this week, I’m including the rest of our worship as well – liturgy, hymns, prayers. (For the sake of length, the sermon will be in a separate post.)



Letting God In – During this time, we invite you to prepare your heart and your mind for worship. We want you to be able to use this quiet time to settle your thoughts, set aside any distractions that may be troubling you, and focus your whole self on God. Open your heart, your mind, and your spirit, and let God into your life.

 Centering Prayer: Open up our lives, Expansive God!
As you breathe in, pray, “Open up our lives.”
As you breathe out, pray, “Expansive God!”

* Gathering Hymn #2271 (Sing the Faith) – Come! Come! Everybody Worship (refrain only twice through)

* Opening Praise
One: With pure hearts, clear heads, and steady hands,
Many: We come, Holy God, to worship.
One: In gentleness, holiness, and honest love,
Many: We come, Holy Christ, to worship.
One: Immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy,
Many: Having nothing,
One: Having it all,
Many: We come, Holy Spirit, to worship.
ALL: We come. We come. We come!

* Opening Hymn #294 (NCH) – There’s a Spirit in the Air

* Joining in Prayer (prayer written by Patrick Marshall)
One: In the covenant of baptism, we are called to renounce evil and its power in the world. And that is very easy to do in theory. But in weeks like this, we are confronted with specifics; with the reality of evil and its power in the world. So we confess the brokenness of this world and of our own lives, and accordingly:

ALL: We renounce the evil of violence and the false belief that it can ever be used to truly solve our problems. We renounce the evil of racism and the false belief that some people are superior to others because of the color of their skin. We renounce the evil of sexism and the false belief that some people are superior to others because of their gender. We renounce the evil of greed and unjust systems that exploit the poor and the false belief that our material worth defines our self-worth. We renounce the evil of addiction and the false belief that any thing can truly satisfy us. And we ask forgiveness for the ways that we have participated, wittingly or unwittingly, in these evils. Lord, heal our world, our nation, and our lives of the evils that plague us, and help us to continue renouncing them, not just with our words, but with our lives. (Please take a moment for personal confession and reflection.)

In the name of Christ, we pray.


* God’s Promise of Grace

Passing of the Peace

* Song of Peace: Let There Be Peace on Earth (back of the NCH)


Gospel reading – Luke 11:29-36

New Testament reading – 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Sermon: Livin’ Large!

Hymn – They Met to Read the Bible (insert)

Prayers of the People
Sharing our lives in prayer
Sung response (printed on bulletin)
Silent Prayer
Pastoral Prayer (put out by the PCUSA): God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, God who has brought us thus far on our way, only you know why someone would enter into your house of worship and open fire on your children. Only you know why hate would run so deep that it would cause one of your creations to kill others you have formed. In our confusion over this senseless act, we appeal to you for understanding and courage to continue to fight for justice. We pray right now for the families of those who lost lives at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. on June 17, and ask that you would wrap your loving arms around them and the entire community. Likewise, we pray for an end to the continued racial unrest and violence that permeates the United States and the world, and ask you to guide us to work earnestly for change. … (specific congregational prayers were used after this)
Lord’s Prayer: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.


* Hymn of Response #370 (NCH) – What Gift Can We Bring? (verse 4)
* Prayer of Dedication


* Hymn – Canticle of the Turning (insert)


* Charge & Benediction

* Sending Hymn #570 (NCH) – We Shall Overcome (verse 1)

* indicates please rise in body or spirit as you are able

Sunday’s sermon: Rejection vs. Redirection

You Are Special

Texts used: 1 Samuel 8:1-10, 19-22 and Mark 3:20-35

  • [Read 1st part of You Are Special by Max Lucado[1]] → Grey dots. So many grey dots. Flaws. Snubs. Mistakes. Humiliations. Labels. Misunderstandings. Failures. Unfortunately, friends it’s not hard to find rejection in this world. The Wemmicks may be fictional characters, but there are far too many ways that we give each other grey dots today.
    • News media = full of stories about people hurting, excluding, or retaliating
    • Congress can’t seem to get much done – too busy digging their heels in and pointing fingers at each other across the aisle
    • Society = full of ways that we try to separate ourselves from each other – socially, economically, politically, racially, etc. → separation = exclusion = rejection
  • So imagine how the characters in our Scripture readings this morning would look if they had been in the habit of assigning grey dots. – texts full of rebukes and rejections
    • 1 Sam
      • Samuel’s sons rejected role of judges – text: [Samuel’s] sons didn’t take after him; they were out for what they could get for themselves, taking bribes, corrupting justice.[2]
        • BACKGROUND – role of judges[3]:
          • Local leaders – authority recognized by local groups/tribes beyond their own
          • As title suggests: arbiters – officials with authority to administer justice
          • Acted as military leaders in times of war
        • In the reading – people do more than just reject Samuel’s sons as judges → reject the idea of judges all together – to Samuel: Here’s what we want you to do: Appoint a king to rule us, just like everybody else.[4]
          • Samuel’s response: He was crushed.[5] → But why was this such a big deal to Samuel? The people sought the security and strength and power of a king – someone who could overturn unjust decisions like the ones Samuel’s sons had been making, someone who could be a leader and a protector. This desire for a king instead of the judges just sounds like a political shift – something hundreds of societies have done time and time again throughout the centuries. No big deal, right?
      • Wrong. You see, in this seemingly-slight rejection, we find the people’s most detrimental rejection: the rejection of God Most High.
        • God = supposed to be people’s leader and protector, sources of their strength and security and power – sort of links back to that pesky 1st commandment: No other gods, only me. … Don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them because I am God, your God[6] → Remember, for a very, very long time in a lot of cultures (including all of those that surrounded the ancient Israelites during the time of our story this morning), royalty was regarded as divine. Pharaohs and kings were treated like gods, praised and worshiped and revered. And here in our Old Testament story this morning, we find the people of God begging God’s own messenger, Samuel, to boot God out of that place of exclusive divinity and select a king to take God’s place.
          • Scholar clarifies further: To seek an earthly king was a rejection of God’s rule as divine king. It was a challenge to divine sovereignty, and at root it was idolatrous. God equated the desire for a king with Israel’s forsaking of the Lord in favor of serving other gods.[7]
          • Hear God’s perception of this in Heb. – God’s describes situation to Samuel: people are “leaving me for other gods” – “leaving” = abandoning, deserting, neglecting → There is a feeling of finality in this. When you abandon something, you leave it without any definite plan or intention to return. That is serious rejection.
    • Rejection in NT passage = rejection of Jesus for who he was
      • By the Pharisees – text: The religious scholars from Jerusalem came down spreading rumors that [Jesus] was working black magic, using devil tricks to impress them with spiritual power.[8] → This is obvious rejection. Blatant rejection. And it’s not a surprising rejection. We know that the Pharisees were constantly pestering Jesus about who he was and who he said he was and who others said he was, just waiting for him to slip up so they could arrest him and get rid of this religious rabble-rouser.
      • Less obvious rejection – text: His friends heard what was going on and went to rescue him, by force if necessary. They suspected he was getting carried away with himself.[9] → more than just a fear that Jesus was going to get tired or hungry or the he was overexerting himself
        • Gr. “getting carried away with himself” = amazed, astounded confused → They seem to be worried that Jesus is going too far with his words and actions … that while he may have been able to talk the talk, Jesus wouldn’t be able to walk the walk.
        • And who is it that rejects Jesus like this?
          • Text: His friends heard what was going on and went to rescue him.
          • Pew Bibles: When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”[10]
          • Gr. is ambiguous – phrase = literally “those from/with him” → The point is, this dismissal and criticism and rejection came from “those with him,” those who are supposed to be on his side – his friends, his family, his supporters. And in all honestly, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who hadn’t felt the sting of that kind of rejection, the kind you feel when a friend or family member – those who are supposed to be “with you” – are suddenly against you instead.
            • Pain of rejection layered with confusion, anger, desperation, uncertainty
  • But the incredible thing about faith is that it brings us the exact opposite of rejection. Faith brings us welcome. Faith brings us acceptance. Faith brings us acknowledgment not for who we could be or what we might do but as one of God’s beloved creations. Period. Faith brings us unconditional love.
    • Doesn’t mean our lives are going to be all sunshine, rainbows, and gold star stickers all the time → scholar: The qualities of our faith communities include love, justice, peace, compassion, and worship. This is not an easy calling. The pressures toward cultural conformity are great, and we live in a culture that often elevates a different set of qualities from those of the covenant model.[11]
      • Jesus response to his own family = perfect e.g. of this – text: [Jesus] was surrounded by the crowd when he was given the message, “Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside looking for you.” Jesus responded, “Who do you think are my mother and brothers?” Looking around, taking in everyone seated with him, he said, “Right here, right in front of you – my mother and my brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”[12] → You may have noticed that I didn’t mention this particular rejection earlier. It wasn’t because I was avoiding Jesus’ seemingly harsh and difficult words. It’s true that this passage is often viewed negatively, like Jesus is turning his back on his family – kicking them to the curb, leaving them behind, rejecting them. But did you hear it say anywhere in our passage this morning that Jesus’ family wasn’t granted entrance? Did you hear it say that they were turned away? Did you hear it say that Jesus rejected his family? … I didn’t.
        • Difference between rejection and redirection
          • In hunt for new leader, Israel rejected God by cutting God out of the picture
          • In NT story, Jesus redirected notion of family and acceptance and love to include more than just those linked by blood and lineage → elevated all those who had been marginalized by the culture – those who had found nothing but rejection throughout the rest of their lives simply by including them
            • Scholar (poignantly): Looking around him at the crowd of misfits, crazies, and his relentlessly undiscerning disciples, [Jesus] says, “This is my family.”[13]
            • Rob’s quote (extends this responsibility to us): We are called to stand on the margins, and if we were to live this way, the margins would expand until one day we would all stand together.
            • Ever-familiar Scripture quote (read just last week): For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.[14]
        • This is exactly why I use the words I do in the invitation to the Lord’s Supper: When the world tells you they don’t have a place for you, you can find a place here. When the world tells you that you are lacking, you can find wholeness here. When the world insists on taking everything you have to give and more, you can find renewal here. No matter who you are … no matter where you come from this morning … no matter what you bring with you … you are welcome here, at this table and in this community. → Friends, our faith is not about rejection. Faith is about God reaching down into our days, into our lives, into our hearts and saying, “You are mine. I created you. I love you.” Amen.

[1] Max Lucado. You Are Special. (Wheaton, IL: Good News Publishers, 1997), 7-15.

[2] 1 Sam 8:3.

[3] “Biblical judges.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_judges. Last edited 18 Feb. 2015, accessed 4 June 2015.

[4] 1 Sam 8:5.

[5] 1 Sam 8:6.

[6] Ex 17:3, 5a.

[7] Bruch C. Birch. “The First and Second Books of Samuel: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 2. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998), 1027.

[8] Mk 3:22.

[9] Mk 3:21 (The Message – emphasis added).

[10] Mk 3:21 (NRSV – emphasis added).

[11] Birch, 1030.

[12] Mk 3:32-35.

[13] Wendy Farley. “Proper 5 (Sunday between June 5 and June 11 inclusive) – Mark 3:20-35, Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 116.

[14] Jn 3:16-17 (NRSV).

Sunday’s sermon: Spirit-Molded, Spirit-Beckoned

work in progress

Texts used: Romans 8:12-17 and John 3:1-17

  • I love the story of Nicodemus. I think that this might actually be one of the most approachable stories in the Bible.
    • Today’s passage = 1st appearance in John à What do we learn about Nicodemus?
      • Pharisee and “prominent leader among the Jews”[1] → This means he was part of the Sanhedrin – the council of leaders that eventually conspired to have Jesus arrested, convicted, and crucified. Members of this inner circle had power and status and prestige. They had an incredible amount of control in ancient Jewish society.
        • This is why Nicodemus came to Jesus in secret → snuck in to see Jesus “late one night” because he didn’t want other Jewish leaders to see him with this radical, subversive, teacher who was stirring everything up
      • First few sentences of gospel story also reveal that Nicodemus is more than just a curious onlooker – Nicodemus is a believer: “Rabbi, we all know you’re a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it.”[2] → Because of his position, this is an extremely crucial pronouncement of faith. In truth, they didn’t “all know” that Jesus came from God. At this point in the overall story of John’s gospel, not much has actually happened yet.
        • Jesus’ baptism
        • Called a few disciples
        • Wedding in Cana à water to wine
        • Jesus driving the merchants and money changers out of the temple
        • Surely, there were whispers about Jesus going around at this point – whispers about what he was doing and about who he might be – but I have no doubt that they were a far cry from everyone knowing that Jesus came straight from God as Nicodemus proclaimed. That’s why his introduction in this story is so powerful and so important. It lays a baseline for just how truly dedicated and faithful Nicodemus is.
  • After this introduction, we encounter my favorite part about this story and about Nicodemus’ faith: his questions.
    • Questions born out of uncertainty – Nicodemus has just said, “No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it,” and Jesus’ response to this declaration of faith: “Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to – to God’s kingdom.”[3] → …… Does anyone else feel like Jesus is answering a question that no one asked?
      • Obviously not the response Nicodemus was expecting because Nicodemus’ own response was all questions and logical objections: You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again. What are you saying with this ‘born-from-above’ talk?[4] → Suddenly and unexpectedly, Nicodemus encountered a part of his faith that wasn’t so certain. Wasn’t so easy to understand. Wasn’t so cut-and-dried. And when it came to faith, this was not what Nicodemus was used to. Remember, he was a Pharisee – one of the scholars, the educated ones, the ones who knew the Jewish law so thoroughly that they interpreted the law for everyone else. Not knowing and understanding something about faith was not in his wheelhouse. But when Jesus started talking about “being born again,” Nicodemus was baffled.
        • Jesus:
          • Unless a person submits to this original creation – the ‘wind hovering over the water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life – it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom.[5]
          • You hear [the wind] whistling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.[6]
    • You know, I think we can sympathize with Nicodemus’ confusion – concept of “being born again/born from above” = a challenging concept even after more than a millennia of theological scholarship and debate
      • Doctrines and treatises
      • Textbooks and “armchair theologian” books (break it down as plainly as possible)
      • Christian self-help books and conferences across the country
      • More than 2000 years later, we’re still struggling with what it means to be “born of the Spirit” and how that can and does and might and should affect our lives as Christians today. And we have the benefit of being informed by some of the greatest theological minds ever born. It’s no wonder Nicodemus was a little confounded when he heard Jesus say it for the first time.
    • Even after Jesus tries to explain, Nicodemus still doesn’t understand and asks Jesus again: “What do you mean by this? How does this happen?”[7]
  • Gets to the heart of what I love so much about this story: All these questions make it clear that Nicodemus is still a work-in-progress … just like the rest of us! Nicodemus was still learning, and so are we. Nicodemus was still growing, and so are we. Nicodemus’s faith was still being formed and informed by his relationship with Christ, and so is our faith. → always being created and recreated by God through the work of the Holy Spirit
    • Made me think about the process of creating a work of art – talked to my cousin who’s an artist about her creative process: how she chooses a subject, how she knows where a particular piece is going, etc.
      • Sadie: Once I get going, I’ll realize the way I wanted something doesn’t fit, or something I didn’t originally think of fits perfectly. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I end up scraping and restarting. A LOT.
    • You see, sometimes that process of creating and being created is a fuzzy one. It can be unclear – vexingly, bafflingly, and sometimes even disappointingly unclear. But that’s why it’s called a “work-in-progress,” not a “work completed.”
      • [Z: Church/denomination with a foot in the reformed tradition – ringing phrases for the reformed tradition = the church reformed, always reforming] → speaks to importance of submitting and continuing to submit to that creation/recreation
      • [O: Church/denomination born out of the reformed tradition – ringing phrases for the reformed tradition = the church reformed, always reforming] → speaks to importance of submitting and continuing to submit to that creation/recreation
        • Paul speaks to this in Rom: Don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. … This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, “What’s next, Papa?”[8] → Now, I don’t know about you, but I actually hear Paul encouraging us to be continually created and recreated in this text.
          • Can’t be adventurous without uncertainty
          • Can’t be expectant without an element of the unknown
          • Can’t ask God “What’s next?” if we already know the answer
          • “Get on with your new life!”
        • Scholar: To be in tune with God’s presence we all need a transformative overhaul of our traditional ways of seeing and being. We need a transformation of our whole way of knowing and experiencing the world. When this happens, it is as if we have begun life all over again.[9]
  • But friends, the often-discouraging reality is that somewhere along the line, society’s expectation of having everything all figured out somehow seeped into the church. We seem to have adopted the notion that we’re supposed to be totally secure in every aspect of our faith 100% of the time. If we’re not, that means we’re a bad Christian or that our faith is somehow insufficient and inferior. But what I’m telling you this morning is that that is just not true!
    • Greatest faith leaders throughout the centuries haven’t had things “all figured out”
      • Martin Luther King, Jr. – constantly struggled with self-doubts
      • Mother Theresa’s letters with her own spiritual mentors/directors – voice her own doubts, struggles, questions, uncertainties in her faith
      • Pope Francis – expressed belief that the places where we find and meet God must include areas of uncertainty[10]
    • Our faith was not mean to be easy and finite. It wasn’t meant to have neat edges and fit perfectly in a box. Faith is supposed to have growing edges, to have places of discomfort where we brush up against the unknown. Think of the parable of the mustard seed.
      • Mt: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field;it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”[11] Faith may start out with smooth, easily-definable edges, but once God begins to nurture that faith through the work of the Holy Spirit, it begins to grow and branch out, always stretching further up and further out into the world.
        • Growth that Paul encourages: God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go![12]
        • Creative process that Jesus hints at in conversation with Nicodemus: When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch – the Spirit – and becomes a living spirit.[13]
  • Yes, my friends, we are touched by the Holy Spirit of God. We are molded by that Holy Spirit. We are called and confirmed by that Holy Spirit. And we are constantly beckoned by that Holy Spirit.
    • Beckoned into God’s presence – continue to grow and strengthen our faith → This is us not just recognizing but embracing our “work-in-progress” identity with all its imperfections and hiccups and foibles because it means that we are constantly being created and recreated by the firm yet tender touch of God’s hand and God’s heart.
    • Also beckoned out into the world – continue to grow and strengthen our faith → again embracing our “work-in-progress-ness” as God working not just in us but through us, constantly creating and recreating us to be God’s hands and heart in the world
      • Scholar ties inner and outer together: The self-giving love of God in Christ cannot be accepted without illuminating our lives from the inside out.[14] → again, similar to an artist with their works of art
        • Every piece of artwork begins with an inner spark – a thought, a dream, a hope, an emotion – and flows outward to become the artist’s beautiful creation
      • Sadie’s words about finishing a piece: I always see parts I should have done differently or should change, but we are our own worst critics. It’s important that I make myself take a step back a separate myself from my work. Even if it didn’t turn out exactly the way I wanted, I can still find things I like about it; whether it’s something visual or just the lessons I learned during the process, I know that I’m walking away from it a better artist. → Even what can seem like the end – the completion of a piece – spurs other thoughts, other ideas, other growth. And the work begins again … Amen.

[1] Jn 3:1.

[2] Jn 3:2.

[3] Jn 3:3.

[4] Jn 3:4.

[5] Jn 3:5.

[6] Jn 3:8.

[7] Jn 3:9.

[8] Rom 8:12-13, 15 (emphasis added).

[9] Emmanuel Y. Lartey. “Trinity Sunday – John 3:1-17: Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 46.

[10] Kyle Cupp. “Pope Francis wants Catholics to doubt the Church. He’s right” in The Week, http://theweek.com/articles/446850/pope-francis-wants-catholics-doubt-church-hes-right. Written 26 May 2014, accessed 30 May 2015.

[11] Mt 13:31-32 (NRSV).

[12] Rom 8:14.

[13] Jn 3:6.

[14] Randall C. Zachman. “Trinity Sunday – John 3:1-17: Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 46.