Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 21, "The cross as a necessary becoming"

C Proper 11 16 Ord NH BFC 2019
Secret Book of James 5
July 21, 2018

          My kids will tell you that I still believe that my luck at stoplights is somehow connected to my ethical behavior.   As someone who is forever late or forgetting meetings, I bristle and curse when I don’t understand why I’m not granted a green light when the meeting I’m trying to get to is particularly important.  Not sure but I do believe I get some well-deserved “side-eye” as I complain about the length of a particular stoplight.  It shows, coursing through my bloodstream, is still the belief in a god of retributive justice—a god who will punish me with red lights for the errors of my ways and a god who gives me the goodness of green lights when I live righteously and with moral rectitude.  Silly.  I know.  But I think that god of retribution, which is strongly linked to the prosperity gospel (If I am good God will reward me with material wealth.  And its converse, if I am wealthy, prosperous, and in power, I must be good), that god of retributive justice is at the heart of our nation’s gospel. 
A central teaching within Buddhism is that “life is suffering.”  In Buddhist understanding this is not to say that all of life is suffering but “life is suffering” moves us away from simplistic pleasantries and helps us to understand that the reality of change and impermanence and necessary growth often happen in the waters of suffering and struggle.  We must ford them.  Even more so, we know that for adolescent people, communities, and nations, change and impermanence are often avoided so as not to make the difficult journey to adulthood. 
The Christian theologian, Douglas John Hall, speaks of our human existence constituting suffering.  We cannot help but experience loneliness, boundaries or limits, temptation, and anxiety—forms of suffering that happen just by being human.    Hall goes on to assert that it is not only the nature of being human that creates suffering but the nature of “becoming” into our full role as covenant partners with a Tender God that also knows suffering.[1]  We all may remember a time when the only path made to get to the other side of growth was through suffering and pain, requiring us to leave the familiar, the old habits and practices, to even admit, “Yes, I was wrong and will need to be better.”  If we are to be better, to grow, our suffering may not only be a necessary cost of discipleship but also a way to move us from complacency.
          And God suffers.  Throughout Scripture, God knows, has intimate relationship with the pain of God’s people, weeps openly for them, dies a little bit inside each time the power God has given us impedes or destroys the joy God intends for all of creation.  God grieves.  That is all over the Bible.   That is supposed to be directly conveyed in the life of Christ.  As God in Christ suffers and dies, Scripture poetically affirms that God is heartbroken.  The Temple curtain tearing in two upon Christ’s death is like the Jewish parent who rips open their clothing to show the vulnerability and pain within their heart.  All of this is to understand our God as in genuine relationship with the world, reaching out hands to you on this day so that your heart might not only be full of the love God intends but also expand to grieve with God over the suffering we see in the world. 
          “The Bible does not claim that all suffering is the will of God or that no suffering is the will of God. Or, that all suffering is due to sin or that no suffering is due to sin. Or, that all suffering is bad and to be avoided at all costs or that no suffering is bad.”[2]  Sometimes the complexity of sin and suffering, as people of faith, leaves us with more questions than answers.  Too often what is taught in our early years, simplistically, to keep us in line, is that God seeks retribution for our sins.  So suffering is a result of our sin—for not cleaning our plate, picking up our clothes, or lying,  or giving sass to our parents.  “One more time, one more time, Mister, and you are going straight to hell!” 
That is why so many people, in various churches, have spoken to me about their love the book of Job.  The book of Job begins with a man who has done everything right in the world.  And, it would seem, his wealth, his large family, and his health all come from God’s favor because Job is a just and righteous Jew.   Simplistically, Job does well, without much suffering and struggle, because he lives righteously and well.
But then it all falls down—Job loses his family, his wealth, and his health.  And the assumption of Job’s friends, simplistically, is that Job has done some great sin to inherit this evil.  Even Job’s wife tells Job to curse God and die.  Job protests.  He argues.  He contends, in truth, that he has done nothing to endure such suffering and refuses to blame God for his suffering.  And when God shows up, it is only Job who has spoken correctly of God.  God speaks from the whirlwind to tell Job, “The becoming of all of creation caused me great suffering, unimaginable suffering.  It is the nature of things.”  It could be correctly said that our creative power is born out of a willingness to enter into the suffering of growth and newness. 
We have to get this as Christians so that we don’t spend all of this anxiety fretting over our sins, thinking that God is going to or has gotten all retributive on us, paying us back for our unwillingness to be moral bean counters out of fear that we will suffer or struggle.   Yes, as we grow spiritual muscle, there may be times when the work we do as Christians feels serendipitous, all things come into rhythm and harmony, and things give way to let us know we are on the right track.  But, as we grow, there are times when to grow, to “become” as not only an individual but also a community, means that we give up on adolescent dreams of providence and prosperity where all the traffic lights turn green on the way to our destiny.  Sometimes the work before us requires a willingness to slog through, to know we will be taking one step forward only to be thwarted to take two steps back.  To know that resistance to the work we do is not that we are in the wrong.  No.  It may very well mean that we are meeting resistance because we are faithful.
It was the great freedom seeker, abolitionist, and writer, Frederick Douglass who said,

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. [3]

We are now in an age where it is not overly dramatic to say that our lives are required of us, that we need to necessarily creatively confront the evil that is consuming the earth, casting hate into our communities, and making no bones about looking for salvation in white hope and prosperity.  That gospel has legs and will require a people, with fearlessness and fortitude, to speak and act bravely for reform to take place, willing to endure the necessary struggle and suffering to persevere.
This is what it means when Christ encourages the disciples, both in the gospels and in the reading we have from the Secret Book of James this morning, to embrace the cross as a form of real living over and against Rome’s imperial power.  In contrast to what many of have been taught, that Jesus’s suffering and death was unique in the First Century, what we have learned is that the telling of Jesus and the cross is to indicate solidarity with the Jewish people who were routinely crucified in the First Century.  When we do know that suffering is a necessary part of bringing about reform and transformation, we flinch less, and recognize that suffering solidarity may be required of us. 
How hope was found in my heart yesterday as I watched Buddhist monks Native leaders, and people of Japanese ancestry, an unlikely ensemble, holding hands in Lawton, Oklahoma, to say that Ft. Sill would not once again become a detention camp, risking potential arrest, bodily harm, being overrun by the world’s greatest imperial power.  Jewish people were arrested at the capitol shouting “Never again is now” willing to say that the suffering of their people reaches its hands out to the suffering of immigrant peoples.  Sisters of Mercy from Chicago, Illinois, traveled to Washington, D.C. where Capitol Police arrested 70 people protesting in the capitol rotunda, including a 90 year-old nun.  Bob Rivett, a retired doctor, father, and grandfather, wrote an article for The Guardian while he sat on Waterloo Bridge in London waiting to be arrested for his membership in Extinction Rebellion, a group he believes is trying to save the world as climate change advances exponentially.[4]  Rivett does this as Great Britain’s police ask for tougher sentences to curb the activism of Extinction Rebellion.  Native elders were arrested, some with wheelchairs and others with canes, were arrested for refusing to yield on the sacred mountain of Mauna Kea in Hawai’i, a sacred mountain Native people say the University of Hawai’I and the State of Hawai’i have seen as a thing to be used and exploited.[5]  Do you feel it?  Can you see it?  God is rising up.  And the labor pains of a new world are underway. 
You may not be surprised to learn that Pastor Harmon was present this week when a woman came raving into our building, upset about the art display of children at the front of our building.  Good thing it was Lisa.  She met her with eloquence, courage, and grace.  Meanwhile, people like Margie MacDonald write editorials in the paper we know are not being well-received by certain community leaders. 
As we decide, as a congregation, how we shall be in solidarity, how we shall creatively engage and confront, we must also keep another thing in front of us.  Though life may sometimes be suffering as requiring our courage and not defaulting to Pollyanna solutions, we should also be mindful that God seeks something bigger and broader for us. 
Therapist Esther Perel knows full well the impact of suffering and trauma in a life.  As the Jewish daughter of a father and mother who lost all of their family in the Holocaust, Perel knows that there are people who never come back from suffering and trauma.  She witnessed it as her family struggled to make a life among other Holocaust survivors in Antwerp, Belgium.    She asked her husband, who works with torture survivors, “What’s the process, and how do you know when a person comes back? What kind of coming back does a person do after they have been in solitary confinement for years, or away, dislocated, et cetera?”
And they both began to reflect on when a person does come back. What they concluded was that there’s something about when a person can once again take risks, because it means that people are not completely trapped in a state of vigilance.  Coming back happens when people can once again play, or experience pleasure or joy, because it means they are not completely wrapped in the sense of dread. We can’t be on guard and let go. And playfulness comes with a certain element of letting go.[6]  That is why it will always be important, in this courageous congregation, for ice cream socials, birthday cake Sundays, and holy hikes.  They all remind us that we are playfully nimble, willing to take risks all over again, to perhaps enter into the suffering and struggle that will bring becoming to our community and our world. 
In other words, it is a serious, difficult time.  We want to act, as people of faith, accordingly.  But I want to make sure we are having fun, scheduled and spontaneously, so that we aren’t lost or become the hatred and fear intended for us.  As Christians, we are called to the intentional suffering and struggle of solidarity at the food of the cross.  We are also called to know that God intends our joy and play and celebration and rest.  Amen. 

[1] Douglas John Hall, God and Human Suffering:  An Exercise in the Theology of the Cross (Minneapolis:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1986), pp. 66, 120. 
[2] Terrence E. Fretheim, “To Say Something—About God, Evil, and Suffering,” Word and World, Volume XIX, Number 4, Fall 1999. 
[3] Frederick Douglas, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress,” Blackpast, 1857, https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/1857-frederick-douglass-if-there-no-struggle-there-no-progress/. 
[4] Bob Rivett, “Extinction Rebellion protestors aren’t activists—we just want to save our world,” The Guardian, July 19, 2019. 
[5] N. Jaymila Chisholm, “Native Hawaiian Elders Arrested in Telescope Protest at Mauna Kea,” Colorlines, July 18, 2019.  https://www.colorlines.com/articles/native-hawaiian-elders-arrested-telescope-protest-mauna-kea
[6] “Interview with Esther Perel:  The erotic is an antidote to death,” OnBeing with Krista Tippett, July 11, 2019, https://onbeing.org/programs/esther-perel-the-erotic-is-an-antidote-to-death/. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Lights for Liberty Vigil, Friday, July 12, 2019

Tonight we grieve.  And it's impossible to know how to respond to make this come to an end.  But no system of injustice is ever taken down by a singular act, one great push, or solidarity expressed in a moment.  For, as hard as it is to fathom, there are hands across American who praise this policy and practice.  And this is us.  This is us.

So what we need now is persistent, consistent, and regular vigil that will refuse to let go of the children's hands--hands to which we have extended our hands out to this evening.  As shared by Rev. Traci Blackmon at our recent denominational meeting, "What about the children?" is a Swahili greeting used to indicate the well-being of not only a family but also a wider community.  "What about the children?" is an everyday question, a check-in question, a question that you don't ask once and then walk away.  A question you ask once only to walk away is never how children are nurtured, never how they are kept safe from harm.  

We say things to our children we hope they know last a lifetime.  Call me when you get there.  Stay safe.  Be smart about your surroundings.  Know that, if you need us, your mom and dad and your whole family will show up to keep you safe and free from harm.  Those are our fondest and most devoted wishes for our kids.

Tables with postcards, websites, information, phone numbers for Senator Daines and Representative Gianforte are found on tables to my right.  Their offices should be flooded with calls asking what they are doing to end child detention and stop family separation.  Today Billings asked for calls from across the State of Montana to ask Senator Daines to care for the most vulnerable and to go to one of the places that qualify to be called concentration camps.  And then report back to us.  Join us at the protest on Monday at 12 noon beginning here.  Then we march to Senator Daines' Billings office and ask for this to come to an end.

Join Sanctuary Rising and our initiatives as we seek to reunite families like that Gonzalo and Josie and their children (https://www.gofundme.com/72bb7m0) over the holidays.  Get Know Your Rights presentations into Billings public schools, often the first point of contact for undocumented children and youth, and give money to organizations at the border that provide bond money for the undocumented or asylum seekers.  We also have material (https://www.afsc.org/sites/default/files/documents/New%20path%20-%20short%20version_0.pdf)  that share what a more humane immigration policy might look like which emanates out of a basic understanding that all people have human rights.  

We have posters for you to put in the windows of your homes, to call attention to this human rights crisis.  

Finally, finally, please work on the root causes of immigration.  Asylum seekers come from Honduras because we overthrew the democratically elected government of Honduras, created horrendous trade and agricultural policies that continue to devastate the rural poor in Latin America.  

I close by saying this.  Keeping vigil is not an easy thing.  It suggests that you will not turn away.  That when you are called to grieve and rage, you grieve and rage.  But that you stay woke, not close your eyes, and become a witness as you gain more and more wisdom about what your eyes see, what love compels you to do, and what justice requires of you.

This weekend, with 1 million declared to be deported, promises to be a weekend of immense suffering, parents losing the ability to check in with their children, and families forever, forever broken.  "What about the children?" means you will not ask just once--as a person, as a parent, as a community, as a human being.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 7, 2019, "Relational, greatly loved, and inherently pleasing"

C Proper 9 14 Ord NH BFC
Gospel of Thomas 64, 70
July 7, 2019

Almost all of the New Testament is about identity.  And one of the iconic ways this is made evident is through baptism.  John the Baptist says that, “I have baptized you with water but another one comes who will baptize you with fire.”  Our identity is the head of wheat that feeds ourselves and the wider world.  But there is chaff—stories which still operate within us to tell us we are less than divine—and those need to be burned away . . . as fire is the great purifying instrument in the ancient world.
It is a countercultural act to love that which is within us, to know it as divine.  Black Elk said it best, “I had a dream and because I did not live my dream, my dream was making me sick.”[1]  We are called to live out the dream that is within us, to call it forward so that it may be made manifest . . .  as it sparkles and lights upon the earth.
Even more so, we are told from an early age that which is within us and these  bodies that define our boundaries are not normative and only have value when they can be turned into dollars, commodified, or receive approval from a dominating, ever-changing gaze. 
As our recent Bible study group knows, I believe Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved, is one of the most important stories told in our time.  It is one of the true tellings we have of the Gospel of Mark and takes place just after the Civil War, outside the slave south, where freedom seekers seek to make new lives for themselves in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Morrison based the book on the real-life story of Margaret Garner who had escaped slavery just before the Civil War began.  In the story, Baby Suggs, an escaped slave herself, who took no official title, was unrobed and un anointed but let her great big heart beat in front of her people.  She was an unchurched preacher.  When summer came, Baby Suggs holy would invite her people to the Clearing where she would invite children to laugh, men to dance, and women to weep.  Pretty soon it all got mixed up and women began to laugh, men weeped, and children danced.  Morrison tells the story further:

She did not tell them to clean up their lives or to go and sin no more. She did not tell them they were the blessed of the earth, its inheriting meek or its glorybound pure.

She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it.

"Here," she said, "in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard.

Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don't love your eyes; they'd just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face 'cause they don't love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain't in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don't love your mouth. You got to love it.

This is flesh I'm talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved.[2]

What Baby Suggs knew and wanted all of those freedom seekers to know was that the message the Domination System tried to tell them was a lie—that their flesh, and hands, and mouth and bodies were only meant to be worked, produce, bound, milked, and ignored.  This did not recognize the Divine found within them and on them and through them. 
            We have been given a false self that destroys all of us.  Even as a white, straight, cis-gendered man, I no longer want to bear the false power and load as normalized divine.  It is too much.  I am often broken and ragged and hurt and I need to be loved in that space.  I can’t keep up the illusion.  It is too much.  I am often not capable—and so I need the help of others.  I am often not strong or competent—and so I need the strength and wisdom of others.  I am often not loving—and so I need the divine called forward from all of you.  Because I have seen it in you, the ability, the wisdom and strength, the love, and it is truly glorious.  Truly glorious. 
White male supremacy is a false self that has me failing time after time.  Because it is false, it is so fragile that it is often defended with violence—defended with violence so that people do not dare speak the truth.  It is formed through domination and, defacing the children of God.  It is unsustainable chaff that God needs to be allowed to burn or it may burn down our planet.[3]  This saying from the Gospel of Thomas relates that if we do not bring forward the true divine identity, our true identity within us, it may very well destroy us. 
As Daniel José Camacho relates, “[O]ur true self is relational, is greatly loved, and is inherently pleasing.  The true self is peaceful and does not build itself through domination of others.  The false self is violent and formed through domination.  The false self eschews relationality and pretends to be utterly independent.  The false self is hatred, is internalized self-hatred, is a child of God vandalized.  The false self is always depleted, in need of great approval, greater success, greater results.”[4]
We are capable, powerful, wise, and strong but we don’t have to be all of it all of the time.  We are baptized, in all of our diversity, into a community of hope that begins to recognize the divinity within us and within people who are absolutely not like us.  They might look at you and see someone odd and strange and goofy . . . and yet, glorious divinity.  You might look at them and see someone so differently odd and strange and goofy . . . and yet, glorious divinity.  As Camacho writes, DNA testing, which has become so popular these days,  can be meaningful and tell us a little bit about our ancestry, but DNA testing cannot perform the memory of a baptism which affirms us as beloved and divine.  You . . . in your oddity, strangeness, and goofiness, you are gloriously divine.  No longer the lies that require our violence.  No longer the false stories that require our need to deface and harm another. 
I am a big fan of Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldúa.  I read two of her incredible anthologies from women of color when I was in seminary and felt like each writer from those anthologies opened up my heart wider and wider to a world of pain and gifts and struggle and wisdom far beyond what I had ever known.  In her book, Borderlands, Anzaldúa writes about the U.S.-Mexico border as an open wound that is not only at its physical location.  It is found within us, how we see each other and how we see ourselves.  She hopes that we move past false racial personalities to know our true identities.[5]
Race itself is a fiction—a recent one in human existence used to justify genocide and slavery.[6]  As a white male, I do significant damage when I pretend that I can erase years of history and harm by pretending I don’t see race.  It keeps me in power not to see it because race has been repeated so much that it functions in the background and drives our whole narrative.  Race makes what is going on at the border justifiable as domestic and foreign policy.  As a fiction, race needs that power over through violence and domination to continue the illusion.  And it responds in a sweeping way to try and harm any who would call out its lies.  For those of us who are well meaning, race causes us to pause just long enough so that children can be separated from their parents, locked in cages, and sexually assaulted without us storming the castle and saying, “This wrong!  It must stop!  It can be no more.”    God’s truth is that these are people, families, children, with a wisdom of struggle and survival, of strength and resolve, of beauty and wisdom, I may not even be able to comprehend.  If we do not allow that divinity to be recognized in them, will they ever be able to bring it forward in the future?  These are God’s children, God’s beloved—relational, greatly loved, and inherently pleasing.  Nobody is calling them into the clearing to laugh, or dance, or weep.  And so will they know to love their own skin?  Will they know?  Why am I not at the border now to tell them it is all a lie?  Why?
We are gloriously divine.  And we are to call forward that true self within us so that God’s truth, not the vicious lie being told at the border, so that God’s truth may go marching on.  Amen.

[2] Toni Morrison, Beloved (New York: Penguin Group, 1987), 88-89
[3] Daniel José Camacho, “Who am I?:  What DNA Doesn’t Tell Us About Identity” Sojourners, July 2019, p. 27.   
[4] Ibid.
[5]Gloria Anzaldúa, “La Consciencia de la Mestiza,“ Feminist Theory Reader:  Local and Global Perspectives ( New York:  Routledge, 2002), p. 186
[6]Audrey Smedley, “Origin of the Idea of Race,”  Race:  The Power of an Illusion, PBS, November 1997, https://www.pbs.org/race/000_About/002_04-background-02-09.htm.

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 30, 2019, "No distinctions made"

C Proper 7 12 Ord OL BFC NH 2019
Galatians 3:25-28; Gospel of Thomas 77
June 30, 2019

          The Bible is not the be all end all but today I want to begin by asking us to think of a Scripture verse you might consider a life’s motto or sums up the meaning of Christian faith.  Let’s take a minute of silence to reflect and then share.   A life’s motto found in a Scripture verse or a Scripture verse that you think sums up the Christian faith.   One minute of silence. 
 A life’s motto found in a Scripture verse or a Scripture verse that you think sums up the Christian faith.
One of the Scripture verses I might use to summarize Christian faith is found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians for today.  Paul writes in about the year 50 C.E., and Paul is clearly quoting something that pre-dates that.  It was used by early Christians in their baptisms and it conveys just how radical early Christianity was.  There is no distinction between those of different racial, ethnic, national, or religious stripe (Jews and Greeks).  There is no distinction between those of different gender or sexuality (male or female).  There is no distinction between those of different social or economic background or status. (slave or free). 
I think it is critical that we hear what a radical statement that was not only for the 1st Century but for the 21st Century.  Sometimes we wrongly assume that we have to bend and twist our tradition and Scripture to make some moral progress, to find a Christianity that is open enough, loving enough, and just enough to meet us where we are.  Sometimes that faith is calling to us from the ancient world to be much more radical than what we are.  This broad, baptismal statement tells this open and affirming congregation—with beautiful and wise and courageous leaders and participants from all across the LGBTQAI spectrum—that our work together, our ministry together, our lack of distinction in love, is central to the beginnings of the early Christian Church.  It is time we stop acting like we have to apologize for our faith.  By our identity and work in Billings and in Montana, we are at the heart of the Christian tradition, affirmed by its earliest creed, when we find spiritual power, divinity, God or Christ in diverse and various peoples, places, and voices.  This is who we are.
I was drawn to an article from CNN this week about Australian musician and songwriter, Nick Cave.  Cave’s music is characterized by its raw intensity, and, historically, its unflinching dark subject matter.  He cultivated an aloof and menacing persona.  Things changed somewhat, however, when Cave and his wife tragically lost their 15 year-old son.  Several years ago he began a dedicated search for a deeper faith, something less vengeful, and became witness to a Jesus who was a man of sorrows, sadder, softer, more introspective.  And seven months ago, Cave began a conversation with his audience in concerts and on the internet which has him revealed as a wisdom-giver.  He encouraged people to ask him anything.  When asked what God sounds like, Cage responded by saying, "I hope the voice of God would be something other than booming, authoritarian and male," Cave answered. "Wouldn't that be a pleasant surprise?"  He reflected on his time in the recording studio, how various and diverse voices can come together to produce something like what he thinks God’s voice must sound like.  He went on.

Perhaps, God would have the combined voice of all the untold billions of collected souls, an assembly of the departed speaking as one -- without rancour, domination or division, a great, many-layered calling forth that rings from the heavens in the small, determined voice of a child, maybe; sexless, pure and uncomplicated -- that says 'Look for me. I am here.’[1]

Before The DaVinci Code became popular, the movie Stigmata was released, using the present verse from the Gospel of Thomas as its centerpiece.  The movie suggested that the Roman Catholic Church was preventing the  Gospel of Thomas from going public because it suggested that we did not need the church, a pastor or a priest, to know spiritual power, the Divine, God or Christ.  The divine was accessible to us by looking under a stone or splitting a piece of wood.  Church authorities didn’t want you to know that divinity was so readily available to you because church giving and attendance might bottom out. 
If you did not know this truth, I hope you hear it loud and clear now.  In Christ there are no distinctions.  God and God in Christ are actively trying to be known to us, to say, “Look for me.  I am here.”  Maybe we have missed out because we have been waiting for God from on high, in the powerful and the mighty, the large and impressive, to emerge from the sky.  Meanwhile, as the Gospel of Thomas relates, God has been active from below underneath the stone or from within, inside the log in the small and often unnoticed.  Perhaps it is not the stone or the wood that lead to answers but the lifting and the splitting that bring it about.  What lifting up a stone and splitting open wood requires of us is a strenuous searching.[2]  Christ is found in the strenuous seeking from below, underneath, and from within—the small.
I invite you to take a look at the photo on the front of your bulletin.  There lies a split log.  Looking in the log we find a skink:  a small lizard.  Skinks are very beneficial to a garden because their prey includes grasshoppers, snails, slugs, cockroaches and even small mice.  Who would guess that such a small, active creature might be found within the split log, a manifestation of the divine?
In her book, Emergent Strategies, Adrienne Maree Brown shares how we, as communities, can harness the strength of the small for spiritual power by paying attention to the patterns and the rhythms of the created world.  We should be like the fungus mycelium that grows underground and interconnected to create healthier ecosystems.  We should be like ants who act collectively and cooperatively, relying on the work of others.  We should be like ferns who repeat at scale to impact a whole system.[3]  We should be like a murmuration of starlings—chaotically yet beautifully finding ways to avoid the predators of the world by keeping the right distance apart while keeping our connectivity to move together as a unit.[4]  We should be like dandelions—hard to uproot, medicinal and healing, able to spread like wildfire over the best of lawns.  We are resilient, resistant, decentralized, and regenerative.[5] 
Were you told or taught that God makes distinctions such that your race, nation, ethnicity, or religion disqualifies you from receiving goodness, kindness, and love, and the material bases of life?  That distinctions about your gender or sexuality left you outside the circle, with Christ unable to be found?  That distinctions about your social or economic status or lack of noble birth and noble name somehow made you less than?  It is a lie.  A bold-faced lie—so that others might limit, abuse, torture, claim superiority over you and with their persistence make you believe it.  Were you told or taught that spiritual power, the divine, God or Christ was not available to you?  It is a lie.  A bold-faced lie—to keep you in line, to make you forget your own power. 
I say to you on this day.  Stop seeking God in palaces and in the velvety robes of kings and sovereigns, in the halls of presidents or congress.  Even more so, we are seeking to create a church and a movement that is not confined to the four walls of a church or is confined and boxed in a sanctuary.  In this congregation and out in this beautiful earth are the wonderfully diverse gifts of God.    Give your muscle and sinew, your seeking and activity to find God beneath and within, in the small and the hidden.  God wants to be found.  “Look for me.  I am here.”  Seek!
It is a bold-faced lie to suggest that there are distinctions, to say God or Christ is not available to us.  As the Islamic Sufi mystic, Rumi said, “You are not a drop in the ocean.  You are the entire ocean in a drop.”[6]  No distinctions made.  God’s power is made available to all of us in the small.  This is our tradition.  May we be like a murmuration of starlings, in boundaries and connection, chaotically and beautifully making our way.  Amen. 

[1] Daniel Burke, “A rock star was asked what God's voice sounds like. His answer is beautiful,” CNN, June 29, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/29/world/nick-cave-god-religion/index.html. 
[2] “Early Christian Writings:  Gospel of Thomas Commentary,” http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/thomas/gospelthomas77.html
[3] Adrienne Maree Brown, Emergent Strategy:  Shaping change, changing worlds, (Chico, CA:  AK Press, 2017).
[4] Julian Scott Campbell, “Earing our place on the planet:  an interview with adrienne maree brown,” Longreads, April 2018, https://longreads.com/2018/04/24/earning-our-place-on-the-planet-an-interview-with-adrienne-maree-brown/.
[5] Brown, “Emergent.”
[6] “Emergence #3: nine practices into a new future,” Great Lakes Commons, October 5, 2018. 

Pentecost Sunday, June 9, 2019, "The Truth is being revealed"

C Pentecost BFC NH 2019
Acts 2:1-5; Wisdom of Solomon 7:26:8:1; Odes of Solomon 34
June 9, 2019

Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, an appropriation of the Jewish harvest festival.  As the story goes, the disciples are still licking their traumatized wounds after the sudden and violent death of their teacher when the Spirit comes suddenly and like the rush of a violent wind.  Fiery tongues settle on each of them, regardless of social or economic status, gender or sexuality, ethnicity or nation, and they begin to speak in the languages of immigrant Jews who have gathered in Jerusalem from all over the known world.  The people gathered are bewildered, flummoxed, curious enough to ask what is going on but afraid of the activity they have witnessed.  When the apostle Peter gets up to give a speech about this event, he compares it to a devastating army approaching[1], the appropriate response being repentance and fasting, spiritual practices that require a mindful watching and witnessing of radical change that is beginning to happen.   In an age where bewildering things are happening full of violence, blood, and fire, the teller of this tale knows that these all can be seen as absent of God’s presence and activity. 
Yes, we may be bewildered, flummoxed, even afraid of the violence, blood, and fire we see around us, the immigrant tongues which make us wonder if there is ever a chance for unity, but maybe this is not so much the end but the beginning and the sure signs of God’s presence and activity.  Did we think it was going to be easy?  Did we think it would be like a gentle dove coming softly to the earth to share peace and goodwill for all?  Maybe it is that, as in every age, we can now see the beginnings of God enjoining against the preachers and prophets of war, the purveyors of hate and supremacy, those who are showing their fear against the rising tide of a need for justice and peace spoken in immigrant languages. 
Resurrection is the portent, the sign, that there may be more here than violence and death, an alternative to the drum major instinct seeking to be first absent of humility and a priesthood of all believers, seeking superiority absent of responsibility and service, seeking to declare exceptionalism without the Spirit . . . the Spirit of mutuality and love.  Pentecost is an invitation to become part of the movement to be a drum major for the struggle for justice and humility and a priesthood of all believers, for peace and service and responsibility, for righteousness and mutuality and love.[3]  Easter is God’s resurrection moment.  Pentecost is God’s resurrection movement, the birthday of the church, the gathering of the diverse tongues who stand again and again to say that an alternate reality is necessarily coming forward to claim a shared space.[4]
Throughout Scripture, the Spirit has always been that manifestation of the Divine that crosses boundaries between heaven and earth, across boundaries and border posts, and through limitations and taboo.  As wind or breath, the Spirit is impossible to control or define as it moves and connects us to one another.  As fire, the Spirit is a purifier and focuser of intent and an instantaneous representation of God’s energy and power to bring about transformation and a call that stops us and re-orients us and reminds us who we are—the truth about who we are.
The most massive living thing on earth is  . . . Pando’s Aspen grove in southern Utah’s Fishlake National Forest.[5]  Some of the trees in the forest are over 130 years old.  When any part of the organism needs nourishment, the other parts come to its aid.[6]  Using a single root system, Pando, Latin for “it spreads”, spreads out for 106 acres with what appear to be thousands of individual trees.  Known as the “Trembling Giant,” the trees are knowing for making a quaking sound as the wind passes through their leaves.  Wind . . . reminding us of connection.  Wind . . . reminding us of Creator’s activity, presence, and movement.  The Pando quaking aspens are under threat, however, as human encroachment and animal grazing cut short the lives of their younger growth which require boundaries and nurture to grow another generation. 
The Pando quaking aspens are a metaphor for who we are in the world, a more explicit statement about the truth of our connection to one another and to Creator’s good earth.  We know we share and are connected by one water system.  We know we share and are connected by one breath.  It is even said that we are stardust, stated by a prophetic folk singer and confirmed by scientists, to remind us just how connected, and celestial, and interdependent we are.[7]  There are not some born to be of the heavens and others born of the earth.  Creator’s Spirit winds (long “i") and winds (short “i")  it between, across, and through us.  That seems such an elemental truth that I feel almost ridiculous saying it.  But there is a lying being told and retold out in the wider world we need to respond to with the deepest truths of our faith. 
Do not let the violent wind, the blood and fire, the immigrant tongues make you believe it is all going to hell.  As Peter knew in his generation, there is a great revealing taking place, the Spirit is afoot, and we are to watch for it and witness to it.
Recently, prophet for our own time, Winona LaDuke, Executive Director of the Native and climate activist Honor the Earth, traveled to fossil fuel energy provider Enbridge’s shareholders meeting in Alberta, Canada, to witness the end of an era, the possibility of the last tar sands pipeline, that form of energy now only experiences bust in its boom-bust cycle of fossil fuel energy projects.  “This is the last Pipeline,” LaDuke declares, “Four other pipelines were proposed and they are all either cancelled or in legal limbo. Enbridge's Northern Gateway (to Pacific) and Trans Canada's Energy East are cancelled. Kinder Morgan/Trudeau Trans Mountain is in legal hell, all permits nullified, Keystone is in legal challenges. Now the legal challenges begin for [Enbridge’s] Line 3. This is not Honor [the Earth’s] last battle, it's the last pipeline still moving ahead.”[8]  Winona LaDuke is witnessing to the fact that this is the last pipeline still moving ahead.
Here are the reasons.  First, tar sands oil is too expensive and there is not much of it left.  Second, big oil doesn’t seem to care about Alberta’s financial problems.  So the disconnection big oil facilitates comes home to roost.  Albert Kenney, Alberta’s newly elected premier, does not see another economic boom to help fill their financial gaps so why take on all of the bad things tar sands mean for a people?  And that leads to the third point.  Tar sands oil is the dirtiest in the world.  In takes too much to process, can lead to major tragedies, and in this time of climate crisis, insurers are ready to move on.  Finally, nobody wants a tar sands pipeline.  Failing projects, litigation, and lack of governmental approval lead to doom.  Two pipelines are fighting to be the last tar sands pipeline:  Enbridge Line 3 and the Keystone XL pipeline.  Keystone XL was buried in legal challenges in the great State of Montana until two days ago but now is too late to begin building this year.  Those witnessing and watching, including the Indigenous Environmental Network, have vowed to continue the fight.[9]  Honor the Earth promises to make Enbridge Line 3 very, very expensive—the last pipeline.  Analysts are now saying that it will be the most expensive pipeline never built.  As a sure sign that transformation is taking place, Canada now has more people employed in renewables than in all fossil fuels.[10] 
Great transformation is taking place.  Creator’s Spirit is afoot, present, on the move.  Do not let the violent wind, the fire, and the immigrant tongues scare you.  Know that they are a sign that the lies and coming doom and death are being revealed.   And the truth is, the truth being revealed, the Spirit whipping around the earth, whipping around this room is to remind us, in a holy, inspiring, purifying flame, that we are connected in life.  We, as the prophets of that new day, we are to watch for it and witness to it.  We are connected.  Amen.                                     

[1] Margaret Aymer, “Commentary on Acts 2:1-21,” WorkingPreacher.org http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3282.  The army is a reference to the Joel passage Peter quotes.    
[2] Kateri Boucher, “Quit your prayers,” Radical Discipleship, June 4, 2019. 
[3] “Drum Major Instinct,” Stanford University The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education institute, https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/drum-major-instinct.  Dr. King was responding to a J. Wallace Hamilton concept called “the drum-major instinct.”
[5] Thought at one time to be the largest but has been surpassed by Oregon’s thousand-acre fungal mats.  Still the most massive,  “Pando, The Trembling Giant,” AtlasObscura https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/pando-the-trembling-giant.
[6] Erin Alberty, “Utah’s Pando aspen grove is the most massive living thing known on Earth. It may die soon.” The Salt Lake Tribune, November 14, 2017.  https://www.sltrib.com/news/2017/11/11/utahs-pando-aspen-grove-is-the-most-massive-living-thing-known-on-earth-it-may-die-soon/.
[7] Simon Worrall, “How 40,000 Tons of Cosmic Dust Falling to Earth Affects You and Me,” National Geographic, January 28, 2015.  Stated in the article by Stanford professor of pathology, Iris Shrijver. 
[8] Winona LaDuke, “The Last Pipeline,” Honor the Earth, http://www.honorearth.org/last_pipeline_news.
[9] Matt Volz, “Court lifts injunction that blocked Keystone XL pipeline construction,” PBS News Hour, June 6, 2019.  https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/court-lifts-injunction-that-blocked-keystone-xl-pipeline-construction
[10] Winona LaDuke, ‘The Last Tar Sands Pipeline,” The Circle:  Native American News and Arts, June 5, 2019, http://thecirclenews.org/environment/the-last-tar-sands-pipeline-2/?fbclid=IwAR0JPSWDVC5_iOol0wUnAVRC8_AhDkmAD0QzdwjE7FlBwU105YEMblQCZg0.

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 21, "The cross as a necessary becoming"

C Proper 11 16 Ord NH BFC 2019 Secret Book of James 5 July 21, 2018           My kids will tell you that I still believe that my ...