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Justice for the Poor

2nd Sunday in Advent Psalm 72:1-7 18,19

72:4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

Our culture has taught us to get really caught up on certain aspects of faith. I’m not even going to name them, because you know what they are. They are the political hot points. The things that make the news. The things that get people so fired up they are willing to unfriend church folk over it.

But you know what scripture talks about hundreds of times, almost as if God and Jesus were really serious about it? The poor. We are to care for the poor and the needy. We are to see to the needs of the widow, orphan, and prisoner.

Sometimes it feels like we’ve lost that fire to do something about poverty in our world. We’ve been fed a lie about why people are poor, and that they need to stay that way. I don’t believe that’s true. I echo the cry of the psalmist in our scripture for this week, that our leaders might champion the cause of the poor, and seek justice for the oppressed.

In September of 2019 I attended the Assembly of the Deaconess Community of the ELCA a community that I am blessed to walk with on my journey of becoming both a Deaconess Sister and Deacon within the ELCA. In that assembly, through the leadership of another candidate, the Deaconess Community voted to endorse the Poor People’s Campaign .

I am very excited about this endorsement, and I’m excited to see what I can do to support the campaign in my local area, especially through voter registration and mobilization.

So how will you champion the cause of the poor among us? I hope its through checking out what your local Poor People’s Campaign is doing and serving the cause. But if not, do something. Advent is about waiting, but the poor can’t wait forever.

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To Unlearn War

1st Sunday in Advent Year A. First Reading. Isaiah 2:1-5

” He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. ” Isaiah 2:4

War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing

Edwin Starr

We are in that time of preparation that starts our church year again. That time when we wait. I know I’m not very good at waiting, its hard to unlearn the cultural push to exhaustion. But here we are, beginning again with the time of waiting. The time when we say, slow down, the Lord is coming. Wait a while with us.

And our text brings us back to Isaiah, the great prophetic texts so often used to say whatever we want it to say, especially proving messianic prophecies. And while that is an important part of the prophet’s text. I am drawn to verse 4 every time. Especially this line:

Neither shall they learn war anymore.

Isaiah 2:4

We learn war. Its not instinctual in us. We aren’t created to live this way. The Hebrew word here is לָמַד lamad, which means to teach, instruct, diligently expert, or become skilled.

I often wonder what a world like that would look like? What would it look like if we didn’t learn war anymore. If we didn’t learn how to fight each other. If we didn’t teach our children glorious war stories, but rather the tragedy of death and trauma and lifelong sorrow produced by it.

In this season of Advent, I’m choosing to unlearn war. If we can learn it there must be a way to unlearn it (or at least I’m hoping there is). I’ll choose to meditate on the ways I can teach peace, and to help restore a world broken by centuries of a learned culture of war. I pray others can join with me and we can figure it out together.

Shalom siblings, peace be with you.

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Do Unto Others

All Saints Day Luke 6:20-31

There are lots of blessings and woes in this passage. And all of them make us a little squirmy. A seminary cohort of mine used to start sentences with “deep down in my icky dark core…”. This is one of those deep down in my icky dark core moments in scripture for me.

Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t want those who hate me to be blessed

Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t want to pray for those who abuse me.

Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t want to think about the fact that I might be counted among the “rich” of this world, even in the times I struggle to make ends meet.

Deep down in my icky dark core I crave the approval of people, I need everyone to speak well of me, even when I know my call should cause people to feel a little uncomfortable and to even disagree with me.

Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t do unto others as I would have them do unto me.

But the Good News is it isn’t about me. Its never about me. Its about God, and I’m not God, and praise be for that! I need to remember that my sinful self regularly needs grace and forgiveness, and to be reminded, even with scripture that hits my icky dark core that others need grace and forgiveness too.

So I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep trying to honor the parts of scripture that hit my sinful self hard, to honor others as images of God, and to do unto others as I would have them do unto me.

Fight On Just a Little Bit Longer

Someone close to me shared the following lyrics from a song sung at the Poor People’s Campaign’s We Must Do M.O.R.E Mass Meeting in Maine.

Fight on, just a little while longer.

I know justice is coming soon

In the Gospel reading for this Sunday (October 20, 2019) we find ourselves in Luke 18 with the parable of the persistent widow. The widow who won’t stop demanding the justice she knows she is owed. The widow who is supposed to represent how we should never stop praying and never lose hope.

Well its been a tough time for hope for me lately. I feel like I’m surrounded by judges like the one in this parable who “neither fear God nor have respect for people”. Not that I’m not also surrounded by good people with good intentions, I just feel like I’m fighting against the current lately on issues relating to justice.

But I know I am not alone. I know there are people who are boldly committed to issues around poverty, immigration, LGBTQ rights, racism, climate justice, and so much more. There are people who will continue to fight with me, or even for me, when I need to take a break for a minute.

Here’s what I’m choosing to remember, its a quote from the Talmud, and I’m pretty sure its a mashup of a couple of quotes, but I’m holding onto it anyway, citations be damned.

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

Talmud

So go friends. Do justly now. However you can, in whatever way you can. Love mercy now, even if it means loving yourself above the cause for a minute. And walk humbly now, keep moving, keep going. “Fight on just a little bit longer, I know justice is coming soon”

Love is…

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany 2nd Reading 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient, love is kind…

Flash back to any weddings yet? I think sometimes those of us who work in churches roll our eyes at how often this passage gets used in wedding ceremonies, valentines day social media posts, and everywhere surrounding romantic love.

But Paul isn’t talking about romantic love. There’s a word for romantic love in Greek, and that word is eros. Here Paul is talking about agape love. Agape is the love that God has for us, and that we have for God. Its not bound by attraction or mutual affection. Agape is the kind of love that is unconditional, that we can’t earn or deserve, but is freely offered.

Sometimes I see all of the things listed in chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians and I think “yeah, that sounds great, but is love really like that? Are we capable of that?”

I truly believe we are. We catch glimpses of Agape love between people all the time, we just need to be paying attention. I asked some social media pals what they think Agape love is, you’ll find some of their answers below, mixed in with my own musings.

Love is…

When someone stops to help a stranger change a tire, knowing it will be an inconvenience.

Listening.

Showing up week after week to teach Sunday school when you’ve had it up to your neck, because kids deserve someone who loves them.

Selfless

Doing the dishes, and not bragging about it.

Opening every cabinet door in the fellowship hall kitchen with a 2nd grader, because he needs to do that with you instead of sitting in children’s church.

Being present.

Choosing a career that serves others, over the ever driving appeal of wealth.

Giving of oneself.

Not abandoning a teenager who has done everything to push you away.

Sacrificial

Sitting at someones bedside, even if they no longer know you are there, or who you are.

Always looking for the good.

Telling your spouse they will go to every inter-generational event at church because those kids are going to know you love them gosh darn it.

The way. The way of God because God is love. If it’s not agape love, it’s not of God.

Ultimately, love is hard. Its hard because we are human, and we are sinners. We mess up, we make each other mad, we hurt feelings, and we break relationships. But luckily, that love that is of God is the way. Its the way back to restoration, the way back to wholeness, the way back to Shalom.

The greatest of these is Love my friends, the greatest of these is Love.

Great Gifts

2nd Sunday after Epiphany: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

“Now there are a variety of gifts but the same Spirit” – 1 Corinthians 12:4

What is the greatest gift you’ve ever been given? And I’m not talking about any of those noble answers like, the love of my child, or my amazing spouse… save it. When I say greatest gift, what comes to mind?

(Just to be clear, the love of my children and my spouse are both amazing gifts, but that’s just not what we are talking about right now)

I am an only child, and holidays were not a huge deal at our house, so I know I got great gifts as a kid, but I’m not sure I remember a lot of them. Although there was this one year when my mom wrapped up figure skates that I had been wearing for a few months, because those suckers were expensive, and when she said they were my Christmas present, she meant it!

One Christmas when my oldest child was about 5 and his brother was just a baby we were visiting family, and my oldest’s Godfather came over with presents. If ever there was someone who’s love language was gift giving, it would be his. Everyone got great gifts, and I got a laptop. It was such a huge deal for me, because it wasn’t something I would have been able to get for myself, and was something I really needed.

That’s sort of what its like with our Spiritual gifts right? Oftentimes we feel like our spiritual gifts probably don’t matter that much, like the time we got socks when we really hoped we were getting that new bike. But we needed those socks, and people around you need your spiritual gifts. Sometimes your spiritual gifts will be like my Christmas computer, big and bold and desperately needed. Other times your Spiritual gifts might seem more like socks, needed but not necessarily noticed.

But your gifts are unique to you. Even if you and another person both have the gift of hospitality, you are uniquely created and your gift will look different than theirs. That’s the beautiful thing about spiritual gifts, all of them are needed within the church, and outside its walls. Someone is waiting for your gifts to be used, for you to welcome them, talk to them, sing with them, or just sit with them. So take some time to think about what your gifts might be, and how you can best use them to serve your church and the world!

For more information on Spiritual Gifts (definitions, quizzes etc) check out these links:

http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/spiritual-gifts-online-assessment

https://www.elca.org/Our-Work/Congregations-and-Synods/Faith-Practices/Spiritual-Renewal/Assessment-Tools

People Pleasers

Baptism of the Lord

Luke 3:15-17,21-22

“You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

I’ve always been a people pleaser, especially people in authority. I wanted my teachers, coaches, pastors, anyone in charge really, to be happy with me. If I’m being honest though, it wasn’t just wanting people to be happy with me, it was for them to like me best. I needed to be better than other people, I needed to be the favorite. (If you get a copy of the Linganore High School yearbook from 2001 you’ll find my picture next to the title of Teacher’s Pet, and yes I am appropriately mortified about that now)

Perhaps that desire to please others, stems from a real desire to please God. And since we don’t generally get to hear the voice that Jesus hears at his baptism “with you I am well pleased”. We don’t always know if what we are doing is pleasing to God.

Or do we? I think we have a pretty good idea of what pleases God. We know Jesus tells his disciples that the greatest we can do is to love God and love others, so if what we are doing is truly loving God, and truly loving others, and not our own self interest, its probably pleasing to God.

There are countless examples in scripture of things that people over the centuries have found to be pleasing to God, from offerings and prayers, to fighting for justice for the marginalized. We don’t have to look hard to find what pleases God, when we shine the light of Christ to others, God is well pleased.

I pray that you can continue to live in the light of Christ, and remember that people are flawed, and that even in all of our brokenness we are pleasing to God. That’s the mystery of Grace, that God loves us in the midst of our flaws. We don’t follow Jesus because it saves us, we follow out of the joy of salvation. And with that, God is well pleased.

Do You Believe in Magic?

Epiphany of the Lord

Matthew 2:1-12

Its that time. The time when people tend to pack away their trees, and put up the magic of Christmas. But what if we turned that around, and realized that the real “magic” started this Sunday, on Epiphany?!

The Magi (sometimes also translated as the Kings or the Wise men) are some mysterious figures in scripture. We figure they were probably astrologers, the scientists of the time who studied the heavens and were well respected for their knowledge. They saw a sign in the heavens and went in search of this holy baby, signaled by the star in the sky.

What faith it must have taken to go on that journey. To head off in search of something, not knowing what they would find. To be people of science, heading off on a journey of faith.

We are now people of science. We believe in the scientific method, we teach our kids to think critically, and God gave us these abilities to be used to their fullest potential, just as God set stars in the sky for the Magi to study. But even people of science need a little magic.

We need to remember that there are things out there beyond our understanding. That God is bigger than all of our scientific method, and that we don’t have to have it all figured out. God gives us a different star to follow on our faith journeys, and our light is Jesus.

We get to step out in faith, following the light of Christ even though we don’t know where the journey will take us. We will meet Herods, who want us to do things we aren’t comfortable with, and we will change course. Sometimes we will catch glimpses of the glory of God, and like the Magi, we will have no choice but to kneel in worship of the God that lights our paths.

Here’s to the Magic of Epiphany. May it live with you as you continue to journey on.

Rejoicing Always

3rd Sunday in Advent

Philippians 4:4-7

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice”

What does it look like to Rejoice in the Lord always? Does it mean being happy all the time? Does it mean ignoring the bad things in the world, turning a blind eye to suffering and misery, and pretend its not there? Sometimes it feels like that would be nice. To just live in the happy times, and to rejoice in all that God has given us.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the theme of Rejoicing in the Lord runs throughout the lines. One can assume that the circumstances in Philippi were less than desirable. Paul warns about behavior during times of conflict, both internal and external. He is trying to get the early followers to understand that their joy is in God not in their circumstances. 

God’s desire to return the world to a place of wholeness, or Shalom, is the reason God calls us to a broken world. We live in the middle of the brokenness, but we serve a God who is not broken. In fact, we serve a risen Lord who conquered death and rose again. We know we are called to restore the brokenness around us, and we get to rejoice in the promises of the resurrection.

Restoring the broken, living in the promise. That’s something to rejoice about. 

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