Sunday, April 29, 2012

Let It Be Known

There was a man (in Acts 3, just prior to today's reading from Acts 4:5-12),
a man whose legs had been lame from his birth.
Every afternoon during the hour of prayer,
his friends would carry him to the entrance of the temple
so that he could ask for alms
as people came in
and out
for prayer.

Every afternoon during the hour of prayer
the man sat
as a reminder
that one's prayers & worship of God
should never go unaccompanied by
one's compassion & love for others.

The man sat
and sought alms
while people sought God.

The man sat, every afternoon.

One afternoon, Peter and John came for their prayers
so the man asked for their alms.
His outstretched hand suggested,
"Remember to receive me
as you prepare to receive God.
Remember one in need,
even as you tell God your needs."
A coin would have been the simplest gift.
Loose change from the pocket of passersby.
Maybe someone brought the man a fresh roll every afternoon before prayers.
No gift was too small.
Each donation reflected the connection:
God and giving,
prayer and alms,
worship and daily bread.

"Peter, will you give? John, will you give?"

But Peter said, "Let God give you more than you expect.
Not bread, but healing.
Not loose change, but renewed life."
And then the man who sat, every afternoon, at the entrance of the temple,
and walked
and danced
all the way into the temple!

In other words, Peter said to the man (and to us),
"Let it be known:
there are greater gifts than we expect to receive.
Let it be known:
there is fuller healing, deeper living than we imagine.
Let it be known: 
the silver and gold and daily bread for which we scrape
and by which we measure life's success
are not even remotely as life-changing as Jesus."

Let it be known:
there is a dance to be danced for the glory of God
if we will turn our spirits loose
from self-consciousness and stress
long enough to enjoy it.

Let it be known:
when you join that empowering dance
(which is peace & joy & mindfulness of who you are),
when you change your life because Jesus touches you with healing,
when your love for God leads you to a love for others,
let it be known that you will be questioned for it.
You will be challenged,
pushed back against
because of it.

Peter and John stood before all of the rulers of Jerusalem,
before every person who had any official connection with God,
before every man who could say
that he had studied the scriptures or
that he was related to the priestly line.
And all those rulers and all the officials and all the scholars and all the wannabes
raised the question, pushed back, issued the challenge to Peter and John:
"By what power did you change a man's life?"

"Who said that you could make a lame man walk?
Who gave you permission to give that man a hand so he could dance?
Where do you get the power, the authority to make a difference?
Who told you that there could be more to life than the prescribed patterns

of pain and poverty, privilege and power?
Who gave you permission to live beyond those boxes
and to invite others to do the same?

"Who told you that you could not only feed the poor
but also advocate for better responses to the causes of poverty?
Who gave you permission to meet the eyes of a lame man,
to recognize him as a person and not just a beggar?

"By what authority do you claim to give support and love to another person's life
on the street or in a hospital room or across the work cubicle,
in the prison or over coffee or beside you in the pew?

"Who said that you can preach
or teach
or love
or change a life

or change your own life
or break barriers
or stand up and walk?"

All the rulers and all the officials and all the scholars and all the wannabes
said firmly to Peter and John: "We didn't give you permission."

How are you hearing, where are you feeling,
a person or a power or a private doubt saying:
"We didn't give you permission"? Saying, "We didn't give you permission
to change your life, to encourage another's life,
to seek renewed life, to work for healing."

But don't you think Peter and John laughed
as they said, "We didn't need your permission."
And Peter began to preach.

"Let it be known:
You have called us to task for a good deed,
but this is God's good deed -- and there are many more to come!

"Let it be known:
You have called us to task for changing a life,
but Jesus changed this man's life, we just offered a hand.

"Let it be known:
You have questioned our power
because you feel threatened in your power
but there is a power greater than politics, greater than money,
greater even the the power of giving or withholding daily bread from a man.

"You have ordered us to stop impacting lives,
to stop loving our neighbors,
to stop living boldly,
to stop speaking of Jesus.
But let it be known:
you cannot stop Jesus from impacting lives,
you cannot stop God from loving all people,
you cannot stop the Spirit from dancing and renewing lives,
and so we cannot stop speaking
of Jesus' impact
of the Spirit's dance
of God's compassion for loving all people!

So long as people hurt, we will work for healing
because God is the Healer.
So long as people are cast out, we will invite people in
because God is the gathering Shepherd.
So long as the name of Jesus is used to break down and undermine,
we will keep saying the name Jesus for the sake of love and renewal.

Let it be known!
Let it be known in our speech and in our actions,
let it be known in our worship and in our giving,
let it be known that God does not settle for less than miraculous healing,
God does not settle for less than radical love,
God does not settle for less than justice in our interconnectedness.

And neither will we, for the sake of the glory of God. Amen!

Sermon preached 4/29/2012 at Grace United Church of Christ.

Friday, April 27, 2012

In Good Company

I would do well to learn from those who have sought you in the night:
Jacob, wide awake on that stone pillow;
Nicodemus, restless with questions;
Solomon, weighing wealth and wisdom;
Pharaoh's baker, his head full of nightmares;
the weary Hebrews, following that Pillar of Fire;
Rizpah, unrelenting in her bitter mourning each night;
the widow, knocking on the judge's door with determined hope;
the banished man of Legions, howling over his wounds among the tombs.
O God of all hours, when I am without sleep and overwhelmed by the night,
let me seek your faithfulness like so many others have
while the moon looks on in its pale silence.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Just Like Rush Hour

What else can I possibly do, if God chooses to hide his face from me, except wait? Be here ... and wait. Wait for God's mind to change. Wait for God's face to turn. Wait, not in despair but with hopeful certainty that God will make his way around to me again at some point. It's like waiting in a doctor's office or in a line of traffic. I cannot speed up the doctor's schedule by growing irate or hurry the cars in front of me with my finger-tapping, any more than I can rush God's attention. I can only be here and trust that God is still there (even if he's not here).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Getting Involved in the American Dream

"The American Church has been neglecting its role as an active storyteller of the American Dream story, as a prophetic minstrel transforming the American 'Kingdom of God' -- not merely opining from the right or the left on moral concerns, not remaining quiet in deference to the distinctions between church and state, but engaging and relating to the nation as a creative narrator with a commitment to observe, question, disrupt, and reshape the American Dream."

Read my entire blogpost on the Church and the American Dream in Huffington Post's religion section here.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Praying with Kids

My interview with Greg Carey (Lancaster Theological Seminary, Professor of New Testament) about Writing to God: Kids' Edition and the prayer lives of children & adults has just posted at Huffington Post!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Sunday

My heart laughs to say it:
Christ is risen!
My soul sighs to hear it:
Christ is risen!
My toes wiggle with the joy of it:
Christ is risen!

O my God! What a glad morning this is!
Now at last, Death is finished!
Now at last, the mourners can rejoice!
Now at last, the stones cannot stop
all Creation's renewal and healing!
Tell me now, o my soul, of whom will you be afraid
or from what will you cower in fear anymore
when this is your God?

Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Lent 40 (Holy Saturday)

I watch for a sign in the stillness:
a quick flutter,
a breeze,
any stirring at all
that suggests change,
any slight hint that what is
is not the same as what will be.
Let there be a new dandelion today, O God,
or even the shadow of a thunderstorm on the horizon.
Rustle a bush and prompt a nervous rabbit to dash.
Poke a small cricket so that it jumps up.
Let a heron take sudden flight.
Change the scenery in any way, I pray,
do something to give me hope
that this suspended stillness
is not the end -- that
Death is not
the end.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Lent 39 (Good Friday)

There comes a point at which I cannot cry anymore;
the heart is too broken to shed any more tears
as it rends and bleeds to pieces;
the soul is too weary to resist knowing
the painful truth that lies before it;
the hands are too tired to pound the chest
or the floor or the wall in raging anguish.
Long past the tears, my dry heaves and shudders
are no longer really about you, Jesus
(as awful as your death scene was);
they're about every other death and every other failing
when the shadows depleted a beloved life,
when the doubts sliced at my knees,
when heartache stole my breath
and broke my body down.
Ah, Jesus. I'm sure you know:
there are too many skull places to witness,
too many crosses to endure.
I cannot weep anymore,
not today.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Lent 37

Dear Jesus:
Please hit back.

When they smack you and call you names,
please set the example for our children
that no one should be spit upon or
degraded with name-calling.

When they pay money for your body,
let that money weigh them down to drowning
until they understand that no person's body
should be bought and sold like property.

When they hang you up for power's sake,
please fight back and demonstrate that
no man should have to take that sh**.

When they question you simply for being,
please sting them so severely with your words
that their tongues curl and are silenced.

This suffering for the sake of others
has set a crappy example.

Please hit back already.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Lent 36

I thought that you were different, Jesus.
I thought that you were above the drama,
that you might be untouchable somehow.
I hoped that we could just hang out forever:
always learning, always pushing the envelope
here-and-there, always lending a good hand,
and always together -- the whole band of us.
But now you're letting the world divide us,
intentionally, it seems, as if the past three
years aren't important enough to fight for;
as if the conflict and arrest are suddenly
more important to you than friends.
You're willing to lose us, willing
to lose me...but you didn't ask
if I was willing to lose you.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Lent 35

Ah, Beautiful God,
you are the stillness of the morning
before the robins wake or the dew lifts,
just as the sky is warming with the sun's color;
and I step into your sleepy quiet
to breathe deeply and savor the holy harmony.
Let the thoughts of my heart and the words of my tongue
be true to your untroubled spaciousness today,
greeting and welcoming others in
to this sweet peace.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Making Nice (a tangential Palm Sunday rant, er, reflection)

Several months ago, while picking up a few items at the grocery store, a man hit on me in the cheese section. He leaned into my line of sight as I was contemplating cheddars, and said "Your skin is radiant." (It's worth noting -- although it's not the point -- that as compliments go, this one's lame. My skin is radiant? What does that mean? Is my forehead sweating, is my face flushed? Whatever, dude.) I looked at him, smiled oh-so-briefly, and continued shopping. Apparently my response was not satisfactory, because the man doubled-back to me just moments later and said, "What's your problem, bi***?" Then he left. Just like that.

Retrospectively, I wish that I'd said ... well, no, actually I still don't know what I might have said. In any event, I just stood there for a minute or two, mouth agape, before resuming my errand. I don't think anyone's called me a bi*** since my ex-husband.

Fast forward. I'm at the grocery story today, with my children this time. At the conclusion of our shopping trip, I'm unloading bags of groceries into the car trunk while the kiddos are eating their snacks in the back seat of the car. A man approaches. (Bad idea. My thoughts immediately turn to safety when a stranger comes up to me in a parking lot.) This man asks, "Do you have a moment, may I tell you something?" I look at him, expressionless, to let him know that I'm listening, and he continues: "I just wanted to say that, um, you should know you're beautiful." Seriously? I don't smile, but say "Thank you" and continue filling the trunk. "I suppose you're married or something?" he asks. I stare at him for a beat. "Thank you," I repeat more firmly. He gets the hint and leaves. I get in my car and lock the doors.

I find myself increasingly tired of the presumption that, simply because I walk into a grocery store, I am issuing an open invitation for men to tell me their opinion of my appearance. And, because I have invited men to comment merely by my act of grocery shopping, I am obligated to "make nice" by smiling or fluttering my eyelashes or acquiescing in response. Of course, this dynamic is nothing new for women, but lately it's been wearing me thin. Probably because it's been compounded by the whole [male] government considering itself to be invited to tell me its opinion of my uterus and my sex, with the same expectation that I will "make nice" in response ... that I will flirt and say "Oh you're soooo smart to tell me all about my own reproductive needs."

Uh-huh. I don't think so.

In its least significant form, this story of arrogance-expects-acquiescence manifests as an inappropriate pick-up in a grocery store parking lot. In its most violent form, the story is played out on the streets of a gated community -- actually, the streets and sidewalks of any community, town or city -- when one man presumes that his opinion of a teen's appearance must be communicated (forcibly) to the youth. The older man privileges himself to have an open invitation to define the younger man, and his presumption demands the teen's acquiescence: to make nice, to defer to the adult's opinion of him, to change his clothes, to walk differently or walk elsewhere, to defer and to not meet the older man's eyes ... that is, to accept the adult's assessment of him and obligingly correct himself.

"Make nice" is not-so-subtle code for "Let the other guy be right in his assessment and subsequent treatment of you."

On this Palm Sunday, I'm holding onto the good news that Jesus was not a "make nice" kind of guy. He chose a contradictory ass instead of a noble horse to make his grand entrance; he washed feet and ran with the wrong crowd; he didn't pay attention to matters of reputation (much to his mother's chagrin); and when others called him names and tried to bully him into saying that he was someone other than himself, he didn't acquiesce.

Jesus didn't play nice.

Yes, I'm going to hold onto that good news pretty tightly ... and not just this week, but for many weeks to come (this being an election year).