Welcoming Prophets

  • June 30, 2020

Romans 6:12-13 and Matthew 10:40-42

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gathers his disciples, and then he sends them out.  Jesus sends the disciples out to share the good news that “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”  He sends the disciples out to heal many forms of illness.  Jesus sends the disciples out with no supplies whatsoever, and he forbids them from accepting any form of payment. Instead, they must simply offer themselves to whoever will accept them in each place that they go.

This kind of traveling and teaching and healing will not be easy, Jesus warns.  In fact, the disciples will be as sheep in the midst of wolves. They will experience hatred and betrayal, family strife and persecution. They will need to be as wise as serpents to survive it, shaking the dust off their feet as they leave any unwelcoming place.

Still, Jesus tells them, “whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous.”

Hearing what Jesus asks his first disciples to do, I find myself feeling oddly grateful that I am not one of them.  But the selection of text that we hear today invites us to consider not what it would be like to be one of those disciples, but instead to wonder about those who encounter them in their tavels. 

Would we have welcomed one of these folks, if they arrived in our town, or at our door?  Would the risk of inviting in a poor stranger be worth the great rewards of which Jesus speaks?  I’m not sure how I would feel about welcoming someone who arrived with no introduction, no social standing, no luggage — nothing.  I’m even less sure that I would be ready to welcome that person if they were a prophet.

In biblical tradition, prophets are trouble!  They don’t so much predict the future as tell us deep truths about the present: truths that we have tried very hard not to acknowledge.  Prophets speak with passion; they don’t hold back. Prophets cause conflict, within our hearts and within our societies.  And just like the disciples, they generally arrive without warning, without introduction, without power, without privilege — and they are audacious enough to share their truths anyway.

Last week, after listening to The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III preach about the tragedies of racialized oppression and white supremacy in our country, a group of us talked about what we about what we have been taught, and what we have not been taught.  There was general agreement that our education is not what it should have been – though many of us received what is generally considered to be excellent schooling.  When it comes to American history and politics and economics, we have been lied to. We have been audaciously and systematically lied to.  Maybe you have been lied to, as well.

But as I listened to our conversation it kept coming forcefully to my heart that we can yet be saved from this terrible conspiracy of miseducation.  Here is the good news: we have never wanted for good teachers. Our school systems, our curriculums, and the powers that controlled them, may have failed us in many regards.  But teachers of truth have always shown up anyway. Without invitation, without permission, teachers have shown up with Holy Spirit fire and truth for us, if we will only receive their teachings.

Who are these teachers? Today, perhaps we can remember those truth tellers who showed up at the Stonewall Inn, starting early in the morning on this day, June 28th, in 1969.  At that time, LGBTQ folks in America were being openly and systemically persecuted: tracked by the FBI, criminalized by local governments, and labelled as having mental disorders.  To be honest about who you were at any time, in any place, was to risk your employment, your freedom, and even your life.  Tragically, this is all still true to some extent today.

In the early morning hours of that June 28th, there were a lot of folks at the Stonewall Inn, a gathering space for those whose gender identities and expressions, as well as their sexual orientations, race, and class, made them particularly vulnerable in our society.  These folks had come to the only gay bar in NYC that allowed dancing. And then the raid started. Police raids on gay bars were common, but this raid was particularly violent.  In addition to the regular practices of demanding ID, verifying biological sex, and placing people under arrest, this raid included sexual assault and beatings.  It was, witnesses and participants said, the last straw.  A riot began.

Who led the way in the days that followed, a critical turning point in the emergence of a Gay rights movement?  It was people like Marsha P. Johnson, a Black self-identified Drag Queen.  And Stonewall was only the beginning of their activism.  Johnson became a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front.  A leader in Greenwich village, Johnson was known as the “Mayor of Christopher Street.” Along with friend Sylvia Rivera, Johnson founded an organization called Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, providing shelter and food to homeless queer youth and fighting for transgender rights.  Later, Johnson became an AIDS activist with ACT UP.  Not always accepted even within gay rights efforts, Marsha P. Johnson’s presence and work taught the world a truth that was radical then and continues to be all too radical now. I have value, they insisted, people like me have value, and are entitled to the same rights as anyone else.

Those of us who read the book White Fragility last year received this teaching through author Robin DiAngelo. She shared the response of a man of color when asked what it would be like for white people to be open to feedback, to be willing to learn.  He replied, “It would be revolutionary.”

Beloved, most of us, white or not,  have been badly taught: in school, and in society.  But what we were never told, we can still learn, as long as we are willing to welcome those teachers, those prophets, who have always been trying to teach us.  Not all prophets have fancy degrees, or work in fancy schools. Not all prophets look like someone you’d expect to show up in your town, or at your door.  But countless prophets have offered the world the gift of their truth with astounding bravery; have insisted on the preciousness and dignity of human and natural life.

We have been badly taught. But we can learn, even those of us who are white. And we can use whatever power and privilege we have – many of us have a lot of it – to amplify and to fund the work of prophets and activists and change-makers of all kinds today.  God, in her wisdom, invites us not into shame for what we have thought, and who we have been, but into the freedom of a greater love. God invites us into a new life, in which, as the Apostle Paul writes, we can offer every part of ourselves to God as an instrument of righteousness. May it be so.

The Cross and the Lynching Tree

  • June 24, 2020

We were privileged on Sunday to receive the gift of the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III’s gift, The Cross and the Lynching Tree: A Requiem for Ahmaud Arbery. Watch it here!

Confirmation Values & Questions

This past year, seven young people gathered monthly with Joyce and Hannah to explore Christian beliefs and practices. These students have put in time and effort, and like many of us, they have not yet come up with many definitive answers about their own beliefs. So on Confirmation Sunday they shared some of their values and questions with us today.  We’ve taken statements from all of the students and mixed them up together, and I’m grateful that many of the students got together virtually to record it. I invite you to listen to them and to consider what you value, and what you wonder about God, Jesus, Spirit, and Church.

Sunday Fellowship Celebrates a Year of Ups and Downs

  • June 11, 2020

Sunday Fellowship gathered virtually on June 7th to celebrate our year and to give thanks to God for all that we have shared this year. We acknowledged that it felt a little odd to be gathering for a party right now when cries of grief and pain echo all around us. And yet, in other ways, celebrating a year of Sunday Fellowship felt exactly right.

“Cant stop the feeling!”

Much like people of color, people with disabilities are at much higher risk of dying from COVID or in an interaction with law enforcement. Celebrating our inclusive and grace-fulled community is a natural outgrowth of our faith in Jesus, the Disabled God and a fulfillment of the baptismal vow to resist the powers of sin and death which Stephen Carter helped us all re-affirm at his baptism in February.

Plans are in the works for Sunday Fellowship to have its own conversations about white supremacy and racial justice this summer. A grief group is also being set-up this summer for Sunday Fellowship members who would benefit from a safe place to process past or recent losses. An information session about SF Grief Group will be held on June 21st at 4pm. 

Please enjoy our slideshow showing the ups and downs of a year that included Janice and Bryan’s testimonies, disability saint icons, Stephen’s baptism, Chrissy Pickard and John Martino’s deaths and memorials, our first therapy dog visits, not to mention games, meals, prayers, singing, dancing, pageants and fourteen weeks of on-line BINGO. Thanks be to God for Sunday Fellowship.

Following God Through the Wilderness

  • June 11, 2020

by Jessica Torgerson

I met with Hannah earlier this spring to talk about Children’s Sunday and to plan out how, exactly, we were going to do this.  To be honest, March and April were a blur of anxiety and stress and uncertainty for me and it was hard to wrap my head around planning a brand new medium for Children’s Sunday.  I felt pretty lost at times, without a map, but doing my best to navigate this new normal.  So this is my headspace when Hannah suggests adapting pretty much the entire book of Exodus into a drama for Children’s Sunday, but focusing mainly on the Israelites in the wilderness – wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. Can you imagine the fear, the uncertainty, the frustration the Israelites must have felt?  Well, yeah.  Yeah I kind of can, and our children can, and I bet you can too.  This pandemic uprooted our lives just about as fast as the Israelites were uprooted when they fled Egypt.  In the span of four days in March we went from pretty much business as usual to shut down, shuttered at home.  No map.  We were all wandering in fear, uncertainty and frustration.

Once freed from slavery, the Israelites were not too happy about their new nomad lifestyle.  “When are we gonna be there? There’s nothing to eat! Do you even have a plan?” These were complaints that Moses and Aaron and Miriam had to address with God’s help.   I’ve heard those same type of questions in my house recently.  When are we going back to school? When can I see my friends?  Do we have to wear these masks everywhere?  When will this be over and we can go back to normal?  Why is there no flour at the grocery store?!  It is hard to wander without a map, without many answers. God heard the complaints of hunger from the Israelites and answered with a shower of sweet, flaky starch every morning.  God heard the frustration and anger and confusion and gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments – a roadmap of how to live together as a community.  And God heard the desperation and fear of the wandering mass and promised to lead them with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, never leaving them.

When we talked about this story in Sunday school, we noticed the similarities between the wandering Israelites and all the uncertainty in our own lives right now.  But is God helping us and leading us right now, just as in the Exodus story?  We compared God to a lighthouse, leading boats through a storm, providing comfort and safety, like a beacon home to those who may be lost.  I asked the children, “What is your lighthouse right now? Who is helping you to find comfort and safety?” 

My lighthouse is my teacher sending me school work to do every day because I really like school and I was really sad when I couldn’t go anymore

My lighthouse is doing a Zoom with my friends

I do crafts with my neighborhood and we share the crafts. We all do a different one and we share it on the computer.

I can FaceTime my friends and that makes me happy

We do more movie nights with my family and I like that. It’s fun.

And all the children mentioned some combination of hikes, walks, bike rides, and being out in the sun. Sunshine seems to help everything.

This is a scary and uncertain time for all of us, but particularly so for our children.  Schools (and churches) are closed, routines have been upended, nothing fun is open, they are forbidden from being together with friends or even grandparents, and the grown-ups don’t have many answers.  They are wandering – sometimes literally – in a very new wilderness.  But children are resilient, and they are excellent at looking for that pillar of cloud or fire, for that lighthouse in the distance.  I wonder, what is your lighthouse right now?  Who or what helps you find comfort and safety and protection as you wander in this wilderness?  Do you see God at work around you, leading us through the unknown?  I see God through our leaders keeping us safe with new rules and guidelines, through our healthcare workers healing and protecting us, through neighbors who drop off a few cups of flour on our porch, through friends and family who strive to connect in new and creative ways.  And through our children, who teach us every day that God’s lighthouse is burning bright, helping to guide us through this stormy wilderness. 

Thanks be to God. 

The Exodus: a Children’s Ministries production

  • June 11, 2020

Thank you to all the children and families who helped to make this incredible production of our scripture drama for Children’s Sunday! I can imagine more fun productions like this in our future!

Children’s Ministry Slideshow

  • June 10, 2020

Please enjoy the photos highlighting our fabulous year together in Children’s Ministries. It is amazing how much we accomplished and how much fun we had in just over six months!

Pentecost Reflection

Acts 2:1-21

Today we celebrate the feast of Pentecost, remembering the story of the arrival of the Holy Spirit among the apostles, which also marks the birth of the church.  I love this story. And as I searched for images for our service today, I noticed that many folks imagine the story of that first Pentecost a little differently than I do.

For instance, this image from Giotto di Bondone seems strangely… civilized. It’s as if a bunch of white guys got together for a board meeting in a beautiful pavilion. The Holy Spirit is descending among them, but she descends in an organized fashion, with one extremely straight  line of flame reaching towards each head. No one seems alarmed by the fire.  I’m not even sure they’ve noticed.

This lovely image is slightly less formal.  The apostles are sitting closer together, and they’re not enclosed by pillars. Also, thankfully, this artist includes one woman in the events, Mary of Nazareth. However, the fire still descends in an extremely orderly way, and things feel restrained, even solemn.

In our scriptures we receive a very different story.  There is the sound like the rush of a violent wind! There are divided tongues of fire resting on each of the apostles. Everyone is filled with the Holy Spirit and begins to speak in other languages! It is so loud that folks outside hear the commotion and come rushing up. It is so raucous, some folks in the crowd assume that the apostles must be drunk.

The Holy Spirit is the wild element in our Christian Trinity.  She’s an advocate, a comforter, an agitator, an innovator. She is a complicated and sometimes contradictory force who brings power and change. It is the Holy Spirit who finally gets the apostles out the door, on the move, interacting with the people, spreading the good news.

The Holy Spirit must really have been powerful in that little gathering of Jesus followers, because once the apostles get going, they don’t stop. They praise God, make disciples of Jesus, baptize, form radically generous communities, and travel off far and wide to keep the good news moving. They become the movement that is the church of Jesus.

I think we could benefit from some of that Holy Spirit power today.

We need Holy Spirit Wind. For those who cannot breathe, because of the pandemic sweeping our world. For those who cannot breathe, because of pollution. For those who cannot breathe, because of a knee on their neck, we need Holy Spirit Wind.  Holy Spirit, come now.

We need Holy Spirit Fire.  There have been fires this week in Minneapolis, one of my former homes, and elsewhere.  And there are many decrying the destruction that riot and fire bring.  It does seem that many actions may have been taken by white supremacists, and other agitators, and not those who protest racial injustice; a terrible betrayal.  But when we witness the unleashing of the fire of anger and grief over loss of black life, we must remember that as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “a riot is the language of the unheard.”  Shame on us, if we cannot value life over property, if we ask for peace where there is no justice, if we ignore deadly police violence and focus only on protestor violence.  We need Holy Spirit Fire.  Holy Spirit, Come now.

We need God’s renewing, transforming force to enter into the buildings where we sit today. To enter into our hearts, and stir us to compassion and indignation and courage. To break into the institutions that enforce white supremacy.  To break into the institutions that allow greed and violence when they are done by those who are white, or those who are in uniform.  To break into a government and a society that too often condones hunger and want and oppression and death, that in these days regularly threatens free speech and a free press and human dignity.

We need Spirit boldness to give us hope that things can yet change for the good, and to empower us to be a part of that change.  Holy Spirit, Come now.

I want you to know what is happening alongside the nighttime fires in Minneapolis.  People are showing up peacefully in great numbers during the day to protest, and to pray, and to mourn.  People are showing up to clean the streets. People are showing up with bags of food, because transit and stores are closed, and they don’t want anyone to go hungry.  Small businesses and churches that have never spoken publicly about police brutality or white supremacy before, and many others who have been in the work for decades, are organizing and testifying with boldness.  And yesterday afternoon, following news concerning infiltration of the protests, Minneapolis organized block by block to keep one another safe, to protect minority businesses and churches and community organizations that were targeted for destruction.  There is a massive movement gathering to face this crisis, and to imagine and demand what would truly keep the whole community safe.  Holy Spirit, Come now.

No matter who you are, or what you need to be freed from, or what you need to be freed for: I hope you open your heart to the gifts of the Spirit today. May you feel the presence of the God who comes to us as breath, as wind, as fire.  She will surprise us; perhaps even alarm us; all for the good. For a wild, rich, bold, radically just future awaits us, if only we allow her to move us into something new, as she did so long ago. May it be so.

Jesus Rises, Again

  • May 27, 2020

Luke 24:44-53

You may not be familiar with the story of the ascension. Like so many biblical stories, it’s a strange one.

Let’s back up to where this story starts.  Jesus, the child refugee who is also, somehow, God themself, grows up to be a rabbi: a teacher of faith, a teller of truth, a healer. He gathers people around him and proclaims the wonderful disruptive presence of God, here and now: as common and as transformative as yeast or seed or flame. Jesus’ teachings about pervasive and subversive divine love begin to challenge the powers that be: religious powers, social powers, political powers. So Jesus is killed. He goes down to break the gates of hell, and rises on the third day.  Jesus spends 40 days after his resurrection on earth with his disciples, teaching them, eating with them, blessing them. And then, he is carried up into heaven.

The Ascension in art and music and liturgy is often a celebration of Jesus’ supremacy.  In the letter to the Ephesians, the writer proclaims that God seated Jesus “at their right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And God has put all things under Jesus’ feet and has made him the head over all things.”

Now it is wonderful to think of Jesus having so much power, Love having so much power in our world. Unfortunately, the way we imagine that power is often with language and imagery of European kingship: whiteness and maleness and hierarchical dominance. I don’t know about you, but images like this do not really evoke for me a radical and just reordering of the world.

What does it mean to say that Jesus ascends to heaven, anyway? Does his body literally rise? Do the disciples watch his feet hover above them, as some artists imagine? And whether or not Jesus’ body literally rises, what does this story teach us about the nature of God, and how God can influence our lives today?

The ascension reminds us that Jesus goes before us, blazing a trail towards God.  Jesus shows us a way between earth and heaven, a way that we and our loved ones also travel when we die.  Jesus’ ascension may be a kind of coronation, but it is also a coming home, a return to his source.  We too, will find our final homes in the source and ground of our being, in the God who Jesus spoke about.

Jesus’ ascension is also the turning point between the earthly, temporal presence of Jesus and the eternal presence of Christ.  When he returns to God, Jesus is no longer concentrated in one physical body, but suffuses all of creation in a new way, as it says in Ephesians, filling all in all. While he may be enthroned above, we can also imagine Jesus arriving at the center of all things, at the heart of all things, and becoming more readily available to our hearts, here and now.

Let us this lovely good embrace: Jesus, no longer bound by time or space; Jesus, wisdom and sweetness; Jesus, who dwells now with God, and who is therefore as close as breath, or heartbeat, or hope.

Garden Clean-Up

  • May 20, 2020

Thanks so much to all the volunteers who came to help in the garden this past weekend!