“The Act of Transformation”

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Below is the message I gave this morning on Mark 1:14-20

Mark 1:14-20 “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.”

Today’s text is from the very first chapter of the Gospel according to Mark. Mark begins his story of the life and ministry of Jesus – not with a birth narrative – but with Jesus being baptized by his cousin John. So we see the very beginning here. John has been arrested, and we know that he will soon be executed. But while John is in jail, Jesus wastes no time starting his work. He comes to his home turf – Galilee, and is at a major gathering place – the Sea of Galilee.

 The Sea of Galilee is a large freshwater lake, 13 x 7 miles. The people who lived in this area were fairly diverse – ethnically, religiously, culturally. Even though it was part of the Roman Empire, the major Roman authorities were in Jerusalem and Caesarea. Galilee was the backwoods. And these fishermen were the essential workers of the area, barely getting by on minimum wage.

 We tend to have an idealized version of the fishermen from the New Testament. In today’s world, fishing is seen as a relaxing pastime – a leisure activity which relieves stress. But this was not the case for fishermen back then. The Roman Empire controlled every economic aspect of life. People had to buy fishing licenses and continue to pay fees, just so they could fish. They had to deal with heavy taxation. Fishermen were not simply self-employed people who had freedom and lived even somewhat comfortably. They were at the lower social strata – struggling to ends meet.

And just like so many essential workers in our society – they received some of the lowest financial compensation and didn’t eat if they didn’t work. And their work was essential – fish were a staple of the diet for the people of this area. The economy, and everyone in the area, relied on these people to spend their lives fishing in challenging conditions on a sea known for its sudden storms.

 The fact is – Simon and Andrew and James and John – didn’t really have that much to lose by leaving their nets and following this new rabbi.

So Jesus approaches them and says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the Good News…Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.”

Let’s spend a few moments looking at the exact language here. The Greek doesn’t translate exactly to the English. The words which are translated “repent” and “believe” are interconnected, and mean more than what we might imagine. “Repent” comes from the Greek word which translates “to turn around.” It is about physically going in the opposite direction of where we were heading. It’s not just a change of mind – it’s a complete reorientation of the way we live. It is action – pure and simple. And then the word for “believe.” In English, we think of this word as an agreement to certain statements. It’s a gnostic approach to ideas around which we can wrap our heads. But “believe” in Greek is a word that is all about action. “To believe” is something our heads, our hearts, and our bodies have to follow.

 As we know from the ministry of Jesus, he always taught by doing. Traditional rabbis were centered in a particular location, and disciples came to them. Jesus instead traveled, healed, taught in all sorts of places, engaged and interacted with all sorts of people. Actions speak louder than words, and we learn best by doing.

And so the scripture for today reinforces this idea of action – we repent by turning our bodies, and our hearts, and our minds – in the opposite direction. And these four disciples did just that. They dropped everything – including complying to the Roman economic system – and followed Jesus.

Now when we talk about “following” in today’s world, there are a number of things that come to mind.

We follow –

                The news

                People or groups on social media

                Our family’s expectations

                Society’s expectations

                Perhaps our own inner critic

So much of the work I have done over the years with college women is helping them deconstruct the expectations others have placed on them – expectations which dim the inner light each one of them carries. To get in touch with that Divine Light they each carry – to follow that – is to follow God, to let go of those nets and follow Jesus. So many have been taught to follow some authority outside themselves, rather than the Divine Light that shines at their very heart and soul.

And so the disciples in this story follow – and follow immediately. As we’ve already said, they didn’t have a lot to lose – but what courage they had to follow at a moment’s notice, stepping into an unknown life!

Homiletics Professor Karoline Lewis, of Luther Seminary wrote – “Epiphanies, especially of the divine nature, demand an immediate response. There’s no invitation for contemplation or reflection, but instantaneous commitment and risk. Or, to put it another way, no real choice. Naming epiphanous moments, describing those times when your response is out of your control, that might be getting close to articulating what happened with the disciples in Mark. If the heavens are ripped apart, well then, get ready for a wild ride. This can be simultaneously freeing and terrifying. Free to respond in the moment. Terrified of what beyond the moment will unfold.”

I think we’ve all had at least one moment in life where we responded in the moment – our bodies and souls responded before our minds had a chance to think of all the reasons to talk ourselves out of taking said action. I’m not talking about a rash decision, but when we deeply listen to our souls – when we have an epiphany. The disciples had an epiphany that day – and they offered the only appropriate response.

Now for the last part of my message today, I want to address the more traditional Bible Belt understanding of this passage. Repentance and belief are seen as an individual actions, and being fishers of people is all about evangelism and getting people to a confession at the altar.

This kind of interpretation divorces Jesus’ words from his context. He was a rabbi who was a scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures. The metaphor of fishing for people is found in the Hebrew prophets – Amos, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Habakkuk. And the prophets were not talking about individual piety. Their call for justice – fishing for people – was about living in a just society, where the oppressed broke free from their chains, and everyone was valued and cared for. “Essential workers” were not left to do the hardest work in society, for the lowest pay.

Repentance, belief, fishing for people – these were not statements about individuals – but about the community. These words were a call for the transformation of society, so that it might better reflect the kingdom of God.

Theologian Ched Myers wrote, “Jesus is calling these disaffected workers out of an exploitive system and back to a network of “fictive kinship” that practices mutual aid and cooperation… The revered image of “fishing for people,” then, should be understood more in the sense of Dr. King’s struggle “for the soul of America” than in terms of Billy Graham’s altar calls. But as the story makes clear, we can be assured that Jesus’ summons to discipleship was both profoundly political and personal—then and now.”

We know we are struggling for the soul of America right now. The essential workers of the past year – who have made certain we have enough food to eat, who have cleaned infected workplaces and retirement communities and hospitals, – they are on the edge of poverty, and our government has been content for twenty years with a poverty level minimum wage. White supremacy is creating countless domestic terrorists, and the FBI places this group as our greatest threat. Our country has never dealt with the original sin of slavery and racism. When we sweep things under the rug, they are still there and simply rot until the rug is destroyed. Today – we are in the midst of a struggle for the soul of our country.

As we hear the calling from Jesus – to be fishers of people – let us use our hearts and our minds, and our hands to follow in the footsteps of the prophet and bring about a systemic transformation so that we might live in a more just society. This is what it means to say the kingdom of God is near, and the time is fulfilled. All will be fed, will have equal opportunity, and will not be judged by the color of their skin.

Today – let us respond as a community to be fishers of people, so that we may transform our community as we witness to the kingdom of God. Amen.

Inspired by Blessed Mary

My parents gave me this manger scene back in 1989. I keep it displayed year round!

 Luke 1:26-38 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

         This passage from Luke is unique. It shows up nowhere else in the Bible. You might recall that the Gospel of Mark doesn’t have a birth narrative, and the Gospel of John is much more esoteric in its approach to Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew focuses on Joseph and the Wise Men, while the Gospel of Luke focuses on Mary, Elizabeth, and the shepherds. Luke was always focused on the people society normally places on the fringe.

         And thus here we are in the very first chapter of Luke, with a teenage girl from nowhere as the central character. Now let’s begin by trying to gain a fuller understanding of who this girl was. Mary was probably around 14 years old, and from a backwoods town that wasn’t really considered important at all. Even though she was young, she was considered marriageable age during this time period. And we know she was engaged to Joseph, who was probably about 20.

         Marriage during this time was normally arranged between families. It was a two step process. The legal contract would be drawn up and the couple would be “engaged.” They were not formally married yet, but there was a legal commitment. For a woman to be pregnant, and not by her engaged future husband – she could be exiled from her family and community, or she could be stoned to death for adultery.

         Mary full well knew her situation. And so she ponders it. Let’s reflect on the word “ponder.” Mary was a thinker. We all know people who are very thoughtful. They mull things over before speaking or taking action. And that’s a pretty good thing, isn’t it? I’m sure many of us can recall too many times in our own lives when we have spoken or acted without really thinking first!

Mary understood as much as any human could the task she was undertaking.

And this is really the exact opposite of that awful modern Christmas song – you may have already heard it on the radio – Mary, did you know? I wish I could ban that song. It falls into the diminished view of Mary that Protestants have encouraged over the centuries. In the immortal words of the 90s rock band No Doubt, Mary is just a girl – incapable of making her own decisions and just a passive recipient of whatever decisions men might make. 

Protestants have made Mary simply a passive vessel – the physical host for Jesus, who had no agency of her own. Our society tends to give women value if they are mothers, and especially if they have given physical birth. I have known so many women who dealt with infertility or who chose not to have biological children – and the assumption is normally made that because they are not a “mom,” that they are selfish or something is wrong with them. 

Motherhood is a calling – and it is not the primary definer of a woman or her value. When we look at today’s scripture and reduce it to Mary’s acceptance of a physical pregnancy – we are missing the point!

The point is that both Mary and her older kinswoman Elizabeth were important in God’s kindom because of the love they had for God and their willingness to continue God’s work– whatever that work might be.

         Mary is important – not because she was a biological mother – but because she was always willing to be a conduit for God – she supported her son’s ministry, was there when he died, and continued his work after his death (in addition to other women).

         Mary is blessed because she believed the words of God and chose to actively follow – wherever that might lead.

         Mary was not some meek, mild, willfully ignorant child – she was fierce. We can think of teenage girls today who will not be cowed – who are strong and fight for what is right.

Greta Thunberg– the Swedish teenager who has dedicated her life to combatting climate change, even being dismissed and verbally attacked by some of the most powerful men in the world.

Mari Copeny– sometimes called “Little Miss Flint” – a 12 year old girl from Flint, Michigan, who enlisted former Pres. Obama and others to combat the ongoing water crisis in her hometown.

Malala– the Pakastani girl who is a human rights advocate, especially for education for girls, and who received the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17

Yusra Mardini– a teenage Syrian refugee who helped save other refugees and has been an advocate for the refugee community

Kahlila Williams– a 16 year old voting rights and Black Lives Matter advocate who has had a very busy year

Sarina Krishnan– who founded a non-profit in California to help support immigrants

Melissa Khasbigan– a Texas teen who founded a non-profit which combats global illiteracy

I could list a lot more teen girls who are doing amazing things. But the main point is this –

Mary thoughtful and intentionally chose to accept this offering from God. She is not revered because she was a physical vessel – she is “favored” and lifted up in our faith because of her faith

When people ask, Mary did you know? The scripture is plain – she knew her child would be named Jesus – a derivation of Joshua, which meant Savior. She and the rest of the Jewish people in Israel lived in an occupied land. The Roman occupiers controlled their lives, their taxes, their politics. Revolts, hoping to overthrow the Romans, had been commonplace. So – when Mary heard her son’s name – she knew what that could mean and the subsequent possibilities.

Rev. Karoline Lewis says that in the text we see Mary move from peasant girl to prophet, from Mary to Mother of God, from denial to discipleship.

She is an empowered young woman who, after thoughtful consideration, makes a conscious decision to accept Gabriel’s words. She takes action by seeking out the mentorship of her older kinswoman, and she continues to actively fulfill her calling as a prophet and disciple throughout her life.

Theologian Mark Allen Powell wrote these words about Jesus, during his ministry “Jesus is teaching a crowd or people when a woman calls out, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that nursed you.” This is a colorful way of saying, “How blessed to be your mother.” This woman thinks it would be wonderful to be Jesus’ mother because Jesus is a great man and the worth of women is often determined by the quality of sons they produce. Jesus completely rejects this (sexist) ideology and declares, “Blessed rather are those who hear God’s word and obey it!”

         Blessed Mary is one of the best inspirations for us today, especially as we continue to face difficult and challenging days this winter –

We might be uncertain – like Mary, feeling unprepared for the challenges of the day

We might wish someone else would deal with this

We might have lots of questions which will never be answered

We might have to deal with some kind of fear and anxiety every single day

We might be afraid of getting it wrong, thinking there is a different way we could be doing this

But just as Mary stepped forward in faith, so can we. The world around Mary – then and now – might have discounted her as a meek and mild teenage girl – but God knew the truth of her – and we know the truth. She was a strong, fierce woman who actively changed the world and brought love into this world in a new way.

         Thanks be for Mary’s determined and bold faith and life, and thanks be for God who fills us in such a way that we too might follow her example. Amen.

Peace during 2020

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The United Nations designated September 21 as International Day of Peace in 1971. Many people around the world today are designating space apart and time to offer up prayers and actions for peace. We traditionally think of peace as an absence of violence (i.e. no wars) or as a mindset where things just don’t bother us.

On this important day, let’s take steps to a deeper understanding of peace. The year 2020 has been like anything we could have imagined – a global pandemic, the disasters due to climate change, a grave economic crisis, an election cycle unlike anything we have seen before, and the ongoing fight for racial justice. We don’t know when things will end, and we are wondering what “normal” might be in the future. Peace seems about as far removed from our lives as we could possibly imagine.

Yet, peace is this very thing we need at this time. There are two types of peace we can work towards each day. The first is that inner sense of peace. This does not mean not worrying about things, or just feeling happy, or being in denial about what is going on around us. True inner peace is about being connected with the ground of our being. It is about knowing our deepest selves. It is about understanding our connection to the universe and all creation – each plant, the air we breathe, animals, and every human on the globe. It is being fully present in the moment – not rehashing things from the past or cycling through future scenarios. Peace is fully about the present and being connected.

We can find this inner peace in a variety of ways – prayer, meditation, being outdoors, reading something which is sacred for us, creating art, connecting at a deep level with another human (even if it’s virtually).

And in tapping into this inner peace, even if for just a few moments a day, it empowers us to work towards peace in this world. The saying is that there is no Peace without Justice. That is so very true. We are called to work for justice if we want peace in this world. We are called to hear the voices of those who are oppressed and marginalized. We are called to care for our planet and the creatures on it. We are called to make certain no child is hungry or mistreated. We are called to work towards a society which cares for all people equally and equitably.

Our beloved saint, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, lived a life of working towards peace, because she was a champion of justice. So much that I have in my life, and the opportunities I have – as a woman – are possible because of the way in which she peacefully and with love was always a champion for justice.

On this day of Peace, my prayer for you is that you will find a few moments of peace, and those moments will empower you to keep working towards peace and justice for our world.

Love, love, love…

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One day in sixth grade, I recall complaining to my long-suffering mother about my name. “Amy is just too cutesy. Why couldn’t you have given me a stronger name? I think I’ll go by my middle name.” Mom patiently explained the name Amy means “Beloved,” and I was – so she thought it was a good name.

I’ve long since given up my 12 year old rants, and have actually come to “love” my name. I have realized over the years that the strongest part of me is my heart and my ability to love. To be able to love is the greatest thing we can do, and to be one who loves is the greatest thing we can be.

A few years back, my marriage was in shambles, things were tough financially, and I had a demanding job and carried all the emotional labor of running the household with two very active children. I reached a tipping point one Friday night, and took off for the weekend to see one of my best friends. My Granny resided in a nursing home near Patty, and I slipped in to see her on Sunday morning before I returned home. Granny was in the throes of dementia, so I knew she wouldn’t recognize me or be able to talk about anything from the last 50 years. But I also know that we don’t completely understand how the brain works, and it was always important for me to love my Granny and be present with her. She had helped raise me, after all.

I sat beside her bed, and loudly spoke (due to her hearing loss), “Granny, Granny! It’s Amy. I’ve come to visit.” Granny never quite focused on me, but she slowly responded, “Amy. Amy. Everybody always loved Amy.” I couldn’t stop crying. She said so many wonderful things to me over the years, but those words spoken out of her confusion were perhaps the most important ones she ever said to me.

Love never goes to waste. Even if it is received poorly, it changes and transforms the one who loves. We become a higher being and can see the world in a brighter light. Even if our love is ignored or rejected, it carries us (the ones who love) to a more fully formed and fully human plane. The one who never, or rarely, loves is to be pitied. Their vision is limited and their lives pathetically narrow. It is love which widens and expands our world in ways we could never imagine. And the more we love, the greater the world.

Yes, our hearts can be broken. And love is what heals the cracked heart – the love we have for ourselves and the love the universe has for us.

Love lifts us. Love heals us. Love lights the path. Love creates the colors and shadows which enrich our journey. Love bonds us to another in ways we can never fully comprehend and for which we can only be thankful.

In Shakti Gawain’s classic book, Creative Visualization, she provides a list of mantras for creating more positive energy in this world. One is I love to love and be loved. My hope for you is that these can be your words to live by in the coming days, especially in the midst of the uncertainty, pain, and challenges of these times.

Trying to Breathe

Sunday marked the beginning of the Pentecost season in the Christian year. According to the Book of Acts, Jesus’ followers had gathered for the Jewish festival in Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension. Jerusalem was a large and cosmopolitan city with numerous languages spoken. The Holy Spirit descended on these followers, and they were able to speak so that every person in the crowd heard the words in their own language. The word for spirit can be translated as breath. The Spirit of God, the spirit of life, is breath itself.

Breathing is such a foundational thing for our existence that most people don’t ever think about it. We completely take it for granted. And yet, our nation is dealing with crises which are focused on the inability to breathe.

The Coronavirus attacks our ability to breathe, until a ventilator has to breathe for us.

The majority of Americans are in severe economic distress, stealing our ability to breathe easily as we try to figure out how to pay bills.

And black and brown people have their breathe taken away from the evils of systemic racism and oppression. The video of George Floyd shows a man literally crying out that he cannot breathe, while four white police officers ignore his pleas. “I can’t breathe” is the rallying cry heard throughout our nation this past week.

Pentecost is about the rush of wind or breath, of God’s Spirit, bringing about new life and a transformed way of living. Black Lives Matter, and I pray that a new spirit is sweeping this land so that white people will begin to take in cleansing breaths that help us identify and deal with systemic racism so that a better and more just world will be created. For all of us white people, we have a great deal of work to do. Praying and being nice isn’t enough. During this Pentecost season, here are some resources which can help us actively work towards bring new breath into this world.

The Flight to Egypt

low angle photo of coconut trees

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My sermon from Sunday, December 29, 2019….

Matthew 2:13-23

2:13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.”
Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

 

This passage from Matthew is the lectionary reading for today – this first Sunday after Christmas Day. The Wise Men had come from Persia to visit the baby Jesus – and this visit happened some time within the first couple years of his life, even though we tend to place the Wise Men at our Nativity scenes with the shepherds and the newborn Jesus. You might recall that the Wise Men had sought information from King Herod when they were following the star to look for Jesus, and Herod wanted them to tell him where the infant “King” was once they had found him. Being wise in many ways, they returned home by a different way.

So once Herod discovered he had been tricked, he decided to have every child under age 2 executed in the area of Bethlehem. An angel spoke to Joseph to warn him of the upcoming murders, so Joseph took Mary and Jesus to seek asylum in Egypt – and there they stayed until Herod died.

It’s not easy to hear this text immediately after Christmas Day. We are still in the Christmas season, and we have sentimentalized this season in recent decades to the place that it is only about being happy. We even sing, “It’s the hap – happiest time of the year!”

We place a great deal of pressure on ourselves to be happy at this time of year, and to do everything we can to ensure happiness for others. And studies have shown that it is actually a very depressing time for a significant number of people. Happiness doesn’t come with the season for large numbers of people.

Our society has done an amazing job of setting up Happiness as our primary goal in life. Americans talk about one of their inalienable rights being the “pursuit of happiness.”

But this Christmas season we don’t celebrate the Prince of Happiness – we celebrate the Prince of Peace.

Happiness is a superficial veneer – Peace is something different and much deeper.

It’s important for us to hear this passage from Matthew today, often entitled “The Slaughter of the Innocents.”

We can’t really be happy when innocents are slaughtered – when children die every day in this country from gun violence, when people of faith are in danger simply for worshipping as with the violence facing our Jewish siblings in New York, when hundreds of thousands of children around the world are seeking asylum or living in camps in terrible conditions, when there are children within a few miles of here who go to bed hungry every night, when there is the greatest income inequality that our nation has seen in almost 100 years and the vast majority struggle just to get by.

Any feeling person can’t be always happy if they are really paying attention to what is going on in the world.

But we can have Peace. We can have Peace if we follow in the steps of Jesus and work towards justice.

That is what the Christmas season is truly about– not attempts to “feel” happy or insulate ourselves from the bad tidings of the world around us – it is about accepting the peace we find when we truly follow this baby in the manger – as he flees to seek out political asylum in Egypt – as he lives in the forgotten backwoods in poverty – as he loves every person he meets, especially those outcast by society – as he loves people in such a radical way that the people in power decide he must die.

Our scripture for today reminds us that Jesus is both, and always, a beacon of hope, and the constant irritant for those in power, even as an innocent baby. This passage reminds us that Jesus entered a real world of pain, brokenness, oppression – a world where the killing of infants and the easy ability to forget and not care for the children of our world exists.

This is how we celebrate Christmas – eyes and ears wide open – loving others – looking for the moments of joy and happiness when they come – and knowing that true Peace comes from following the Prince of Peace, the light in the world, wherever it may lead us.

Pastor David Lose shared this story – “When I was ordained, a retired pastor and parishioner gave me a print made from a woodcut depicting the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt. What made this particular rendition distinct is that they were not alone. Instead, they were surrounded by a group of refugees, reminding us that in this story of forced flight, God-in-Christ identifies with all who have been driven from their homes by the threat of terror, all who are displaced by violence, and all who flee in fear with hopes for, but little assurance of, a better future.God is with us, even in the darkest times. And God is also for us, promising not only to accompany us through difficult times but also to bring us to the other side that, in time, we might know the fullness of joy that is life in Christ.”

Happiness can and will elude us during this season of Christmas, but Peace remains. We know that we are not alone – others are with us, physically and spiritually, during the challenges we face – both individually and as a society.

And the Christ Spirit of Peace remains with us always, and will empower us to work towards justice in the world which cries out for it, just as Rachel cried out in Ramah for her children. Peace be with you, and with the world around us. Amen.

 

Brokenness and the Christmas Season

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This is the message I gave at our recent College Christmas Candlelight Worship Service –

A number of you know that I have been struggling with knee issues for a while, and had a partial knee replacement a few weeks ago. I feel fortunate to have access to the surgery, and to the follow up physical therapy. I also am very fortunate that my parents are in good health and were able to come and stay with me during my first week home from the hospital.

My mom had a full knee replacement a few years ago, and is a retired nursing home administrator – so she really understands knee issues and the therapy required to heal from the surgery.

In my first few days post surgery, as I struggled with the pain of doing everything the physical therapist instructed, my Mom offered these words, “Well, Amy, maybe something good that is coming out of this is that it can help you be more sympathetic to those who struggle with physical issues.”

I laughingly responded that I thought I was already sympathetic enough. My mom was right – as she normally is. I am a fairly sympathetic person, but going through the pain I experienced for the months before the surgery, and then the challenges of recuperation – including using my departed grandmother’s cane every day – has certainly given me insights I would not have had otherwise.

As I am hobbling into this season of preparation for the Christmas celebration, I have been thinking about what it means to be broken. No one wants to be broken. We all want to be healthy, whole, strong, independent.

A central part of the Christmas message is that God chose to enter this broken world through the life of Jesus. A tiny baby was born into poverty on a cold, dark night in the backwoods of the mighty Roman Empire. His family soon had to flee their home and seek asylum in a foreign land due to a political tyrant. This baby would grow up, and would love others so much that his heart and body would be broken.

Jesus experienced a broken world. He witnessed people ostracized, alienated, harmed, rejected, demonized. He saw hate and fear oftentimes dominate love and compassion. And he understood that when one of us is broken or hurt in this human family, it breaks the entire body.

And it was into this brokenness of the world that love and hope were born.

My knee now has a piece of titanium in it. It is perfect – the muscles around it are still adjusting – but I know this right knee is the strongest physical part of my body. I keep hearing the words of the pop song, Titanium, in my head. I’m sure many of our students know it –

I’m bulletproof – nothing to lose
Fire away, fire away
Ricochet, you take your aim
Fire away, fire away
You shoot me down but I won’t fall, I am titanium…

      Now this song is fun to sing, but the truth is that our real power and strength come through our brokenness. 

When our hearts are broken by the pain in the world we see around us, that is our strength.

When our arms are tired from reaching out a helping hand, that is our strength.

When our hands hurt from holding tight in solidarity with the oppressed, that is our strength.

When our legs buckle from trying to lift up others, that is our strength.

When righteous anger over the harm done to others keeps us awake at night, that is our strength.

The Christmas message is not that we are called to be titanium. We are called to be broken – and in that brokenness, we know the very best of humanity. In that brokenness, we are connected to others – every other person we will ever meet, and every creature throughout this world. We  know that each person we encounter is our sibling. The connection to others and the world around us is our strength.

Leonard Cohen’s beloved song, Anthem, has a line that speaks to us today. It goes – “There is a crack in everything – that is how the light gets in.”

The light can’t get in when we are titanium. The light only shines through what is broken and cracked.

As we see the Moravian star before us today, and as we light the Moravian beeswax candles in a few moments and see that soft flame – Let’s think about the light that comes in the darkest, longest night of the year – and let’s remember that the light we need only comes through what is broken. Being broken is not the end – it is the beginning. When we are broken enough to open ourselves up to others and to love and to grace and to compassion – that is when all of us together become as strong as titanium. Amen.