A few days ago, the people at #LinkedIn reached out to ask if I would write about the shifts in jobs and careers in light of the pandemic. Here is the article.
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 –
People or groups on social media
Our family’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.
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.
The virtual message I offered for Winston Salem Friends Meeting today…
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.
My sermon from Sunday, December 29, 2019….
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.
Saying goodbye is one of the hardest things we have to do as humans, especially when we don’t want to do it. Even if the separation is just for a few days, weeks, or months, when we love someone, we don’t want to let them go. We want them to be part of our lives, to share our joys and disappointments. When we are facing saying goodbye forever, the pain can be almost unbearable. The recently opened movie, The Farewell, explores these deepest feelings of having to say goodbye. Rapper turned actor, Awkwafina, stars in this dramatic role, based upon a real life event from writer-director, Lula Wang. The movies begins with this sentence on a blank screen, “This story is based upon a actual lie.” Real life normally seems to inspire the best stories..
Awkwafina plays Billi, a struggling young New Yorker who as a child immigrated from China with her parents. Her grandmother, Nai Nai, remains in China, along with the rest of the family (with the exception of Billi’s aunt and uncle and cousin, who have resided in Japan for a number of years). Nai Nai is dying from cancer, and as was a common practice in China, the family has decided not to tell her. The family gathers from their various homes for the wedding of Billi’s cousin, Hao Hao – simply a ruse to come home for the final time before Nai Nai dies.
Billi’s Western mindset and emotional connection lead her to believe that telling Nai Nai the diagnosis is the right thing to do. Certainly, we here in the West believe it is our right to know what is going on with our own bodies. Not knowing such information would seem like a betrayal from those we love the best.
Billi listens to her family’s rationale behind such a decision, and learns that Nai Nai didn’t tell her own departed husband of his fatal diagnosis years before. One family member tells Billi that the community is more important than the individual, and that the family “carries the grief” for the dying member so that the one dying does not have that burden.
Carrying another’s grief is such an incredible, beautiful image. In this society, filled with rampant individualism, we don’t want to carry our own grief, much less another’s. We just want to anesthetize pain with food, alcohol, ignorance, or means of escape. As much as we try to ignore our own pain, we do an even better job ignoring other’s. We want to blame people who are experiencing difficulty, instead of sitting with them in the dark days and working with them to find some better path or to change systems and structures which create pain.
I am so thankful for loved ones who have wanted to carry grief or pain with me. I hope I can at least do that in part for others – to carry what I can that might help relieve the burden.
Without giving away the ending, the movie does tell us that Farewell is never really a permanent goodbye. One of the most beautiful (and entertaining, as real life often is even in the midst of pain) scenes comes from the family visiting the gravesite for Nai Nai’s departed husband. They give offerings (a common practice in many cultures), and celebrate his presence with them, even if his physical presence is gone.
I pray that we in the West can better understand what it means to be community and to carry another’s pain.
Last week was a whole lot like life in general – the truly wonderful intermingled with the truly awful. I was fortunate enough to be in Albuquerque during the time elected representatives of my denomination, the United Methodist Church, were at a called international General Conference – gathered to figure out a way forward from division over the issue of homosexuality. My denomination has a long history of focusing on social justice and progressive ideas. The fact that I, as a woman, am clergy is representative of that. My denomination also has a long history of trying to be an umbrella which is inclusive, even in terms of theological interpretation. We have been straddling this fence for so long that it is not tenable anymore. If we were only a national denomination, the decision to be fully inclusive and welcoming would have been made well before now. But we are not. And so a minority of conservatives, funded by outside sources which also have tried to shape our political landscape, have been able to band together with international delegates to pass a plan which is virulent in its condemnation and scope.
The fact is that our churches are filled with people who identify as LGBTQIA. I have more clergy friends than I can count across this country who identify along those lines, and some of whom have long-standing marriages with happy children. One of those colleagues said to me last week, “They will have to pry my ordination from my hands.” And in my over 20 years of collegiate ministry, I have sat with far too many young people whose families and churches broke ties or condemned them because of gender or sexual identity. How can anyone hear those stories from God’s children and support such legislation as barely passed in St. Louis last week?
This isn’t the end. Most of the legislation has already been ruled unconstitutional, and in all likelihood our Judicial Council will affirm the unconstitutionality next month when it meets. But the damage has been done. The fight for property and the name of what it means to be Methodist will continue, but the pain and suffering inflicted on my siblings cannot be undone.
The good part for me last week was being at the annual meeting of the National Association of College and University Chaplains. Close to 200 were gathered, and one of my joys was seeing all the young women who were present. It filled my heart to hear their stories, ideas, and vision for collegiate ministry. Our closing dinner took place Tuesday evening, on the heels of the final vote at General Conference. I was seated at dinner with some other UM clergy, and two young women from colleges in the Northeast. One is Muslim, and the other is Jewish. In the few minutes before food arrived, we had all been instructed to share with our dinner companions about positive things that had occurred from the chaplains’ conference. All of us UM ministers were so grateful for the support of the rest of the chaplains, and as I explained a bit of what was going on with the UMC to these two young women, I told them that the highlight of the conference was seeing so many young women, and especially of different faiths, present at the conference. I told them it gave me hope for the future. And I started to cry. The Muslim woman immediately reached out to hug me.
LR Knost wrote a poem that states we are all drops in the same ocean. When I see the goodness, the love, the compassion, the humanity from our younger generations, I see hope. When I see what we have in common, what binds us together, I see hope. When I see that the wisdom of the Divine Spirit speaks in more languages and manners that we can possibly imagine, I see hope.
There is much work to be done in my denomination, my church family. The Spirit of God will continue to move and work in powerful ways, regardless of what happens. And I will not abandon those who have been wounded so deeply. With the compassion my young colleague showed me last week, I will continue to reach out my arms to include, and love, and lift up each one of my siblings. I see hope…
Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe. – Elie Wiesel
Reverend Jes Kast tweeted this morning, “Repeat after me: I was made for this. I am needed for this era.” Those words spoke to the very depths of my soul. How many times can a heart be ripped up? How many times can we continue to be outraged by the hate, violence, and evil filling our society? Two black men were killed in Kentucky on Friday, simply because they were black. Eleven people, from ages 54-97, were murdered at the Tree of Life Synagogue Saturday morning simply because they were Jewish.
The past two years have seen a massive increase in hate incidents and crimes due to skin color, religion, and political affiliation. Elie Wiesel’s words seem to have been written for this very moment, even though the Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate has been dead for 2 years. Each and every location for these evil acts must be the center of our universe. We cannot rest, or ignore, or deny, until we have worked our damndest to change this society.
Jesus said if we are not with him, we are against him (Luke 11:23). If we are not actively with the people being persecuted and murdered in our society, then we are against what is good, just, and loving. And just saying the words is not enough. We all know that actions speak louder than words. It’s been more than enough for months now, but let’s remember that we can continue to work together to fight this evil.
“When we stay silent, we are just as much to blame as those we fight against, and fight is what we must do…”
These powerful words concluded another compelling episode of NBC’s show, Timeless. This amazing show is in its second season (and unfortunately, just a short season of 10 eps), and it just continues to get better and better. The diverse characters are fully realized – strong, goofy, intelligent, complicated, loyal. Women are changing the world – they support each other – and their lives do not revolve around a romantic interest (even when there is one present). It’s hard to believe each person isn’t actually a real person, even if they are the “bad guy.” It has action, humor, drama. But the best part is the social and human truth it embodies each week.
Last night’s episode was about the Suffragist Movement. Once again, the show uncovered forgotten history, and showed how women were treated as they tried to have their rights represented. We all know that being able to vote does not make one an equal citizen, but it is a crucial first step. As we have seen the rights of anyone in this country who is not a white male (and supposedly Christian) trampled in the past couple years, this show could not be more timely. The parallels between the various historical settings each week and what is occurring in 2018 hits almost too close to home. In the climax of the episode last night, these words were uttered, “When we stay silent, we are just as much to blame as those we fight against, and fight is what we must do…”
Silence is complicity. If we ignore the oppression of others in our society and do not make the effort to speak and to act, then we are just as bad as the oppressors. If we act like all lives matter, without realizing that black and brown ones suffer far more proportionally, then we are part of the problem. If we choose not to worry too much about women dealing with sexual harassment and assault and lower pay, then we are part of the problem. If we turn off the tv when we see a child ripped from a parent because of lies about immigration, then we are part of the problem. When we choose to ignore continual lies and inflammatory language from our highest elected official, then we are part of the problem.
It reminds me of that old bumper sticker, “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” But anger is not enough. The anger needs to propel us to action.