sermon on the ELCA Social S

sermon on the ELCA Social Statement*
and Jeremiah 4:23-28; Romans 8:18-23; Psalm 96;

 

This Social Statement is a sixth as long as the one on education, but death penalty and racism are shorter. Still, this gets bonus points in my book because it’s got to address—by definition—Everything.

This isn’t a confineable topic, even compared to the not-so-narrow topics of how society relates to the half the population of one gender, or what to do about wars that take up billions of dollars of our federal budget. Not that those are piddly things and this is frying bigger fish. It’s that they’re all in the same barrel. By definition, creation means everything that’s not the Creator. So it includes fish and barrels and humans of whatever gender doing whatever we do to each other on this little planet amid the inconceivably vast universe and maybe multiverses. All of that in 12 pages of Social Statement.

Remarkable economy, if you ask me. I appreciate lots crammed into little space, though I can’t quite manage in this sermon the proportion of this Social Statement to the long ones, because it would be shorter than the mini mini sermons for midweek worship and I’d already be done. So I’d better get going.

I explicitly connect this to other Social Statements so we don’t wind up with a sense that this is something separate, that when we talk about creation we mean gardens and forests and giraffes and climate change, but don’t as clearly mean farmers and young girls who have to walk farther to haul water and national security and genetics and how we treat people in prisons. But this is all connected. I really appreciate this Social Statement for understanding that. When Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical came out in 2015, it made a splash for tying together ecological concerns and human rights. Well, the ELCA has known intersectional ecojustice for a quarter century at least, not only caring for animals or separating out human needs as if they’re extraterrestrial, somehow disconnected to life on this planet.

Though the MCC regularly recognizes such relatedness of God, neighbor, and creation, still I expect the Jeremiah reading felt uncomfortable and kind of bleak. But don’t think of it as God’s wrath to start. Instead observe consequences to misbehavior and living apart from God’s intentions: God wouldn’t be very loving if there were no repercussions for how we lived, no possible mournful result, and having license to mistreat others wouldn’t do well to fulfill God’s intentions, either. When we ignore God, farm fields do indeed dry up and wither. When we attend to God’s ways, life flourishes.

At the Capital biergarten Bible discussion on Wednesday, Kathy Henning said Jeremiah reminded her of the start of Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking 1962 book. Here is an excerpt so you can hear what Kathy meant:

There was a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings, in the midst of prosperous farms, with fields of grain and hillsides of orchards where, in spring, white clouds of bloom drifted above the green fields. Even in winter countless birds came to feed on the berries and on the seed heads of the dried weeds rising above the snow.

Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change. Mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens; the cattle and sheep sickened and died. The farmers spoke of much illness among their families. The doctors had become more and more puzzled by new kinds of sickness appearing among their patients.

There was a strange stillness. The birds, for example where had they gone? It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.

No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves.

Do you hear the resonance with Jeremiah? Rachel Carson wasn’t writing a spiritual fiction about punishment from God. She was describing the detrimental effects of our use of pesticides like DDT. Certainly we people of faith would say that God continues the creative work of songs and colors and life and so strongly disfavors the causes of mysterious maladies and sick children or dying chickens, the barrenness and blight that Jeremiah also pictured. The effects of our actions were harming God’s good creation. The Social Statement describes this as rebellion against God, which leads to experiencing “disrupted nature [as] a judgment on our unfaithfulness as stewards.”

But it doesn’t end bleak. Like the Social Statement, Rachel Carson moved from a description of destruction and lack of faith toward life restored, freed from the bondage to decay. Paralleling the glimmer of prophetic hope, where Jeremiah sees all has not been completely destroyed, the vision of Silent Spring fostered the turning of culture away from DDT, re-filling spring days in the countryside with song.

The book provoked a revolutionary environmental movement, eventually calling us into things like Earth Day, the Endangered Species Act, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Clean Air and Water Acts. We should remember, much of that was signed under a not-very-eager President Nixon under pressure.

Since then, other cries and other crises have arisen. When the Social Statement was written in 1993, the hole in the ozone was seen as a catastrophic problem. Yet a global agreement meant that what was eating away at our atmosphere to allow in harmful radiation would be banned and the air could begin to heal. God’s intention could be restored. Destruction was not the end.

Again, in 1993, global warming was seen on the same level as the ozone hole. We managed to address one problem with a global agreement, and needed another revolution on the scale of prohibiting chemical corporations to profit from DDT, but in climate change have chipped away at the edges. We read the—not bleak but urgent—words in our Confession that “action to counter degradation, especially within this decade, is essential,” but two and a half times that span has passed and we are still needing to compel ourselves and others to the essential action.

A revolution producing global agreement to preserve the life of vulnerable humans and prevent the extinction of thousands of species is certainly not easy. As with the other Social Statements, that’s recognized here. But our faith is never about simple solutions to small potatoes problems. This is always big stuff, life-and-death, enormous tragic wrongs countered with even more powerful love, destructive evils versus creative life, and all founded in our God who is “deeply, mysteriously, and unceasingly involved.”

Though facing similarly weighty and fretful ethical dilemmas as other Social Statements, this one may even more recognize despair, the sense that we can’t make a difference, that the crisis is too big, that the resolution is too far off.

Yet we are people of hope. The creation waits for us, groaning with eager longing. It is not only we who have faith, but the stones crying out, and dogs going into the kingdom of heaven, and valleys waiting to bloom and rejoice, and the trees to clap their hands, and everything in the seas with their coral reefs acidifying. They wait in hope, a glorious hope that may be unseen but will not disappoint.

And so we act. We act, Romans reminds us, even through suffering.

Now, I don’t know if Peter Bakken would say it was suffering to help write this social statement, but it certainly has helped bring important actions to birth. Rachel Carson faced loads of ostracism and even threats for her work. President Nixon probably had some of his own disgruntled suffering. For me, I can’t say that my biking to reduce fossil fuel use has been too much suffering this past week, with such pleasant summer days. It was no great struggle to be out with Kids in the Garden this week, and only slightly more to take an afternoon for a Wisconsin Interfaith Power & Light meeting. My decision not to eat much meat doesn’t feel fitting for a metaphor of labor pains. Neither is my suffering of choosing to act analogous with those who suffer from inaction, whose homes are inundated by hurricanes or wildfires, whose song goes silent as they are overrun by a greedy economy, whose bodies are poisoned to the confusion of doctors or veterinarians or biologists.

But I do trust my kinship with all of these, knowing their need from sound science, trusting our relationship through Christ our sibling, with compassion breathed into us anew by the life-giving Spirit that compels our concern and energizes our action, the creative possibilities that stretch in front of us, founded by and resulting in God’s goodness, our true and vital source and goal, our sure home. That is the end.

We heard in the Social Statement’s conclusion: “The prospect of doing too little too late leads many people to despair. But as people of faith, captives of hope, and vehicles of God’s promise, we face the crisis. We claim the promise.” Vehicles of promise. That sounds like the most environmentally-sensitive vehicle there could be. And I rejoice in being aboard with you.


excerpt for reading:

We testify to the hope that inspires and encourages us. We announce this hope to every people, and witness to the renewing work of the Spirit of God. We are to be a herald here and now to the new creation yet to come, a living model.
Our tradition offers many glimpses of hope triumphant over despair. In ancient Israel, as Jerusalem was under siege and people were on the verge of exile, Jeremiah purchased a plot of land. When Martin Luther was asked what he would do if the world were to end tomorrow, he reportedly answered, “I would plant an apple tree today.” When we face today’s crisis, we do not despair. We act.
Given the power of sin and evil in this world, as well as the complexity of environmental problems, we know we can find no “quick fix”—whether technological, economic, or spiritual. A sustainable environment requires a sustained effort from everyone. The prospect of doing too little too late leads many people to
despair. But as people of faith, captives of hope, and vehicles of God’s promise, we face the crisis. It is in hope of God’s promised fulfillment that we hear the call to justice; it is in hope that we take action.

excerpt for Confession & Forgiveness:
Fac[ing] decisions made difficult by human limitation and sin,
we act, not because we are certain of the outcome
but because we are confident of our salvation in Christ.

Not content to be made in the image of God,
we have rebelled and disrupted creation.
A disrupted nature is a judgment on our unfaithfulness as stewards.
Alienated from God and from creation,
we become captives to demonic powers and unjust institutions.
In our captivity, we treat the earth as a boundless warehouse
and allow the powerful to exploit its bounties to their own ends.
Our sin and captivity lie at the roots of the current crisis.
Meeting the needs of today’s generations for food, clothing, and shelter
requires a sound environment.
Action to counter degradation, especially within this decade,
is essential to the future of our children and our children’s children.
Time is very short.

Sin and captivity, manifest in threats to the environment, are not the last word.
By the cross and resurrection of + Jesus Christ,
God frees [you] from [your] sin and captivity,
and empowers [you] to be loving servants to creation.
Although we remain sinners, we are freed from our old captivity to sin.
We are now driven to God’s promise of blessings yet to come.
Captured by hope, we proclaim that the Spirit of God,
“the giver of life,” renews the face of the earth.
Captured by hope, we dream dreams and look forward to a new creation. Amen

 

excerpt for Creed:
The creeds, which guide our reading of Scripture,
proclaim God the Father of Jesus Christ as “maker of heaven and earth,”
Jesus Christ as the one “through [whom] all things were made,”
and the Holy Spirit as “the Lord, the giver of life.”

All creation, not just humankind, is viewed as “very good” in God’s eyes.
By faith we understand God to be deeply, mysteriously, and unceasingly
involved in what happens in all creation.
Central to our vision
of God’s profound involvement with the world is the Incarnation.
In Christ, the Word is made flesh,
with saving significance for an entire creation that longs for fulfillment.
The Word still comes to us in the waters of baptism,
and in, with, and under the bread and wine.
God consistently meets us where we live, through earthy matter.

We depend upon God,
who places us in a web of life with one another and with all creation.
In our time, science and technology can help us to discover
how to live according to God’s creative wisdom.
We look forward to a redemption that includes all creation. Amen


excerpt for prayers:
Creation must be given voice, present generations and those to come. We must listen to the people who fish the sea, harvest the forest, till the soil, and mine the earth, as well as to those who advance the conservation of the environment. We recognize obstacles of people lacking power [and] bombarded with manipulated information. We pray, therefore, that our church may be a place where differing groups can be brought together, tough issues considered, and a common good pursued.

We acknowledge interdependence with other creatures. Solidarity asks us to stand with the victims of fire, floods, earthquakes, storms, and other natural disasters. We recognize many ways we have broken ranks with creation in disenfranch[isement], degradation, and discrimination. We pray, therefore, for the humility and wisdom to stand with and for creation, and the fortitude to support advocates whose efforts are made at personal risk.

For all to have enough means that those with more than enough will have to change their patterns of acquisition and consumption. Sufficiency charges us to work with each other and the environment to meet needs without causing undue burdens elsewhere. We pray, therefore, for the strength to change our personal and public lives, to the end that there may be enough.

Neither economic growth that ignores environmental cost nor conservation of nature that ignores human cost is sustainable. Both will result in injustice. We know that a healthy economy can exist only within a healthy long-term sustainability of our planet. We pray, therefore, for the creativity and dedication to live more gently with the earth.

 

* http://elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Caring-for-Creation

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Women & Justice: One in Christ

a sermon on the draft ELCA Social Statement*,  plus Genesis2; Galatians3:26-28,4:7; Proverbs3

With this draft social statement, more Bible study may be a helpful approach. How we hear from the Bible and how we warp it to our own perspectives has been a major factor in the injustices and dismissiveness for women and girls, but the Bible also has extremely strong resource for resolution.

I want to commend again the chance to read more of the statement. First, because this good strong biblical study and examination is in the document itself, so you’re not just hearing me reflect on our faith and gift from God.

But I also suggest reading it to offer your input. The ELCA will have been working on this project for nearly a decade by the time it comes to a vote at next summer’s Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee. Some of you were part of the process in three study sessions we did last summer. Through September, you can submit comments on what you like or struggle with in the draft.

One other note on process: I want to pause and observe that I’m a male talking about the Women & Justice social statement. At first, I felt awkward about that, as if it doesn’t really relate to me. But of course, it relates intimately and deeply. In the end—just the reverse—I was sad we didn’t have more male participation in our studies and would be nervous if men were not talking about this, since it in some way would fail to own our place either with the problem or the solution.

Recognizing this is something that we all need to work on together, let’s approach it with the Genesis passage we heard. It probably sounded different than what you are used to hearing or how you usually think of this. This is one of those Bible stories that has come to define even our cultural perceptions; although, I’d be quick to say that it isn’t so much the Bible itself that has shaped—or warped—us, but a particular translation and interpretation.

See, as we heard it just now, it was a more authentic translation from the original Hebrew. This has wordplay throughout, so you get to learn some Hebrew. The first word to know is adamah. That means earth. The second Hebrew word you already know: adam. But you probably think that means, what? Actually it is more like “earthling.” God took earth and made an earthling. It’s not a proper name, “Adam,” and is not at all helpful to translate it as “man,” which disconnect the human from the humus, separates us from the land as our origin, and also can be applied to put men (meaning males) first, before all the rest.

Our problem is that since the King James Version at least, that male-centered application of this passage has dominated. The translators did their own picking and choosing to warp things that weren’t in the Hebrew. Right away they started putting in the word “man,” and eventually there gets to be a capital-A guy named Adam.

And after he’s done tilling up the land and categorizing the beasts, this Adam is on a hunt for a wife as a helper. She gets subordinated as being made from a small piece of her husband. That’s a big difference from how we heard it, not as how a man finds a wife, but as a human being the most fitting companions for each other. We might paraphrase the point of Genesis that while a dog may be man’s best friend, that pales next to general human relationships. As the draft statement phrases it, “God creates community and family, not a hierarchy based on… sex (what our bodies look like biologically) or gender (how people express themselves)” (13).

So there we have an enormously influential example of how patriarchal structure and sexist presuppositions have taken what was originally a gender-neutral passage about our connections to earth and the goodness of shared companionship with each other and instead twisted it into a domineering masculine blueprint which, by the end of the next chapter, blames females for all evil and brokenness. That’s abusive not only to women, but also to scripture itself.

The second part of our Bible study, has to recognize that there, of course, too many of parts of the Bible that are ugly to begin with, where it’s not the fault of later translators or misguided theologians but is bad from the get-go.

I’d like to hold these in two categories: problems with old culture, and problems still with our culture.** I was thinking about including a problematic Bible reading, but since I even got pushback last week on Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, I figured it was maybe going to be too much to ask somebody to read such hard words from the Bible.

There are too many of them, but an especially striking one mentioned in the draft is from 1st Timothy. Brace yourselves. “Women should dress modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes. Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.” (2:9-15)

I agree that you should never have to hear from 1st Timothy in worship. Yet this horrible stuff has had various influence in the church. It may not have affected whether you’re wearing gold today or how you did your hair, but may have contributed to the sense of being dressed in our “Sunday best.” Worse, in some denominations women aren’t allowed to teach Sunday School beyond 5th grade, because then a woman would be teaching a so-called man. Passages like this are still used to say women can’t be pastors.

What may hit closest to home and be the most insidious is the end, that says women will be saved by childbirth, as long as your kids turn out okay. I know many of you already feel that judgmentalism much too strongly, without extra theological pressure, questioning how good of a mother you are, and how good of a person, and how good of a Christian. Yuck. Awful. Wrong.

I want you to understand that that passage should not speak to us here and now. It reflected standard Greco-Roman culture. It makes me even angrier that this wasn’t supposed to be Christian practice, even back then. This claims to be written by Paul, but is exactly the reverse of what Paul really believed and taught, as we’ll hear at the end. Instead, this was the dominant culture trying to subvert Paul and undermine Jesus and keep the women subordinate and submissive while reasserting the old cultural power of men, to displace the true teaching of the church.

So that’s a passage from the Bible bearing the marks of a former society, and is problematic mainly because it keeps trying to influence our sense of how things should be now.

There are also really hard Bible passages that portray ongoing problems, where it may only make things worse when we don’t hear them. I’m thinking first of some very disturbing stories about rape. We don’t read those, but they could remind us the Bible speaks of our human realities, even when they’re not pleasant. We may especially need to hear stuff like that to clarify what’s wrong in our faith’s perspective and yet that our tragedies don’t ultimately separate our stories from God’s. We have to notice, how we see our reality is closely tied to our perception of God, whether as bullying old guy on a cloud or with us in suffering and struggling for life.

In a similar way, this statement directly identifies problems and struggles—objectification, abuse, sexual assault, stereotypes, economic injustices, inadequate health care and the politicization of bodies, vocations from in the home to business leader or pastor, family roles and division of labor, immigration policies, human trafficking, jokes, media, legal processes, and so on. To these complex realities needing improvement, even though we don’t have quick, perfect, or easy solutions, the statement commends to us that the church’s role is to follow God in struggling against such problems and striving for justice and equity.

Finally, that points us to the clear and beneficial part of our Bible study. We’ve looked at where we’ve created the problem by adding sexist interpretations. We’ve looked at history of dominant cultures as persisting the problems. Now we arrive at some of the solution of scripture, including the good news Paul proclaimed: there is no longer male or female, for all are one in Christ, and all are heirs.

Again, to hear the richness of the biblical background, Paul was preaching this into and against that patriarchal culture where only males could receive an inheritance. He’s not saying that differences between us don’t matter. Rather, he insists that our differences don’t preclude us from the fullness of God’s blessing. Paul clearly identified the love of God for all, the relationship with Jesus as life-giving for all, the work of sharing this love and life as the responsibility of all, to change a sinful culture, bringing women to the same standing as men.

The statement faithfully identifies that we put more weight on passages like this than on the crap from 1st Timothy (though the statement doesn’t quite label it that way). This is the sort of belief and attitude that we can hold to for the sake of our own life and wellbeing and also which is our resource to offer to the world, that our sense of God isn’t limiting but expansive and diverse, that we aren’t confined by rigid orders of what’s acceptable as our pre-ordained potential but instead have at our core an identity of belovedness, of connection, of equity and equality. Our belief is in fully honoring and supporting, celebrating and affirming each other and our own lives, and that becomes our practice to embody Jesus in value and grace and reconciliation and understanding and care. That is what the Holy Spirit is accomplishing and what God intends for all, for us, for you.

 

* http://elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Current-Social-Writing-Projects/Women-and-Justice/Draft

***  see especially statement pp30-32, 49-50

Bible readings:
At the time when Yahweh God made the heavens and the earth, there were no plants or grain growing on the earth, for Yahweh God had not yet sent rain to the earth, and there was no human being to cultivate the soil.

Then Yahweh God formed the earth creature from the dust of the earth and breathed into its nostrils the breath of life, and the earth creature became fully alive.

Yahweh God planted a garden to the east, in Eden—“Land of Pleasure”—and placed in it the earth creature that Yahweh God had made. And Yahweh God planted all sorts of trees in the garden—beautiful trees that produced delicious fruit.

Yahweh God took the earth creature and settled it in the garden of Eden to serve and protect it. Then Yahweh God said, “It is not good for the earth creature to be alone. I will make a fitting companion for it.” So from the soil Yahweh God formed all the various wild beasts and all the birds of the air and brought them to the earth creature to be named. The earth creature gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals.

But none of them proved to be a fitting companion. So Yahweh God made the earth creature fall into a deep sleep, and while it slept, God divided the earth creature in two, then closed up the flesh from its side. Yahweh God  then fashioned the two halves into male and female, and presented them to one another.

(from Genesis 2, translation Inclusive Bible, Phyllis Trible, et al.)
So you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have been made like him. 28There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all Christians– you are one in Christ Jesus.
7Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are God’s child, God has made you God’s own heir. (Galatians 3:26-28, 4:7, New Living Trans.)
social statement reading excerpt:
Patriarchy and sexism prevent all human beings from living into the abundant life for which God created them. In patriarchal systems, men are typically viewed as better than women and have more authority than women. Sexism promotes silencing, controlling, and devaluing women, girls, and gender non-conforming people. We believe that many individuals also experience intersecting burdens, according to their race, economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, or because of the language they speak.

We reject patriarchy and sexism as sinful because they deny the truth that all people are created equally in God’s image. Too often behaviors and decisions rooted in patriarchy and sexism cause overt harm, inequities, and degradations. Examples include gender-based violence, pay inequality, human trafficking, restricted access to health care, inadequate research on health issues affecting women, denial of educational opportunities, objectifying portrayals of women in media, and failure to support elderly women, mothers, and children. Patriarchal structures that reinforce and perpetuate rigid sex and gender expectations also harm men and boys, including gay and transgender men when they are forced to conform to narrow gender stereotypes.

In faith, this church is empowered to confess that Christianity is complicit in [these] sins. At the same time, we believe God is at work in [the church and] human community to bring forth new ways of living that challenge the harmful beliefs and effects of patriarchy and sexism. We recognize that significant progress has been made in society; however, cultural and religious beliefs, practices, policies, and laws continue to promote inequality and inequity and continue to degrade, lessen, and harm people. We believe that Christians, together with many other partners, are able to advance and support an equitable common good.
social statement Confession & Forgiveness excerpt:
Grounded in understanding of the Triune God,
we believe God’s intention for humanity is abundant life for all.

While we affirm that God’s intention is equity and fullness of life for everyone,
we confess that the sins of patriarchy and sexism disrupt God’s intention.
When we do not ensure the safety of women, girls, and others, then we sin.
[But] sin is not just individual acts.
Sin is also found and expressed in organizations and institutions.
It is a sin that women are not paid an equal wage for the same work
or must pay more for health care.
It is an injustice to women and girls to demand physical perfection
and to portray women and girls as sexual objects.
Sexism and patriarchy in church and society
prevent women and girls from affirming, celebrating, and expressing
their individuality as God’s good creatures.

As God’s people, forgiven in Jesus Christ,
we are at the same time liberated and sinful.
We are broken, and yet we are made new by grace through faith.
This good news is true even [while injustice remains].
Give thanks for God’s gracious promises to break the bonds of sin
and to empower our lives of hope to seek neighbor justice.
Rejoice that God is always at work to transform and inspire
new ways of living that lean more fully toward God’s intention.
And hear the summons to seek even fuller measures
of justice and equity for all. Amen
social statement Creed excerpt:
We believe God is the creator of all.
We are, therefore, one with humankind made in the image of God,
and one with the whole creation.

We believe God is the Word embodied in Jesus Christ
who unites us through baptism with all Christians
in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
By his grace, we are liberated to serve God’s whole creation,
seeking peace and justice.

We believe that God the Holy Spirit is always at work,
transforming and inspiring new ways of living in this world
toward God’s promised, beloved, eternal community.

We believe all people are created equally in the image of God.
We affirm that God’s creation is wonderful in its variety.
We believe God creates humanity in diversity,
encompassing a wide variety of experiences, identities, and expressions,
including sex and gender.
Every individual is dependent upon God
and all share in the God-given vocation
to joyfully contribute their gifts to help all of creation flourish. Amen

 

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mini mini sermon for midweek outdoor worship

Summer is traveling time, especially it seems at the MCC. Even if you’re not going far yourself, you’re still part of Boundary Waters and Guatemala and such.

When I’m getting ready for trips (or getting ready with sermon words), I take satisfaction in minimizing, compressing and packing into as little space as possible. That often means I have less than I’d want. I play a little game of seeing how far away from home I can get before realizing what I’ve forgotten.

For the canoe trip, I’ve kept a list year by year, of what I brought and of what I didn’t use. That’s seriously organized for me, since I usually just grab stuff on the last evening.

Such behavior can make me wonder if I forget to make space to pack God, if my readiness for a journey doesn’t include the garments of my faith, if I depart stripped of this identity.

So the comprehensive list in Exodus reminds us how we can be intentional in awareness of God traveling with us. And probably even when we’re unaware or poorly prepared, God’s still there.

 

(from Exodus 25, NLT, adapted)

The LORD said to Moses: “Tell the Israelites to make an Ark of acacia wood—a sacred chest 4 feet long, 2 feet wide, and 2 feet high. Cover it inside and outside with pure gold. Cast four rings of gold for it, and attach them to its four feet, two rings on each side. Make poles from acacia wood, and cover them with gold. These carrying poles must never be taken from the rings; they are to be left there permanently. When the Ark is finished, place inside it the stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, which I will give to you.

“Then make the Ark’s cover out of pure gold. It must be 4 feet long and 2 feet wide. Then make two angels, and place them at the two ends of the cover. The angels will face each other, looking down on the atonement cover with their wings spread out above it. I will meet with you there and talk to you from above the cover between the gold angels that hover over the Ark of the Covenant. From there I will give you my commands for the people of Israel.”

 

 

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For Peace in God’s World

a sermon on the ELCA Social Statement*, and Ephesians 2:13-19, Matthew 5:9,38-45; Psalm 85

It seems like the impetuses or causes to look at this Social Statement keep multiplying around us.

Just before I left for Guatemala, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton issued a letter quoting this nearly-quarter century old yet still-relevant statement, in part saying:

Citizens need to give careful attention to how we in the United States perceive our national interest…Sin’s power often makes itself felt in arrogant and self-righteous views of national identity, and in narrow, short-term, and absolute views of national interest…

In a time…when an idolatrous allegiance to one’s own community endangers our oneness, we must voice with clarity the powerful vision…to engage differences, not to ignore or fear them. The hope for earthly peace challenges people to strengthen their own particular communities in ways that promote respect and appreciation for people in other communities, for all share a common humanity.

Bishop Eaton was using the social statement in reference against the Supreme Court decision to uphold President Trump’s ban on travel from certain Muslim-majority countries. This is an example of how church interacts with our nation.

That news was overshadowing news of another vital issue, as a couple weeks ago we were finding outrage about how children were being treated at our nation’s border. The social statement applies to that, as well, calling our society and us ourselves to better behavior in loving our neighbors.

That news, in turn, surprised me as we came out from seclusion of the Boundary Waters since we’d gone in on the eve of the summit with North Korea and expected to come out hearing all about it. But even deliberations on nuclear disarmament seem to be forgotten. And that news, again!, obscured the ignoring diplomacy in order to reignite dispute with Iran. Such impetuses, begging our attention to look at this social statement continue to explode so rapidly around us.

Still, I selected this among the set we would look at this summer before those particular headlines, and for much more fundamental reasons.

First, Peace is exactly formative of who and what we are when we gather here. In the traditional and ancient liturgy, we begin with it in repetition: In peace, in Peace! let us pray to the Lord. Kyrie, eleison. It comes up over and over through the liturgy, to the final words that dismiss us into the world and commission us to bear out what we have practiced while together: go in peace. Go in peace.

Perhaps most noticeably and extensively, it is at the heart of the service, the crux of our gathering when we share the peace of Christ with each other. I should talk about it more, because it is such a key moment of what we do here. It’s so much more than a brief howdy. It recognizes that it’s not how well we’re doing in relationship with each other, but that we’re related in Christ, who reconciles us. It is especially important for me with those with whom I’ve had difficulty. If that makes you concerned for if I come to offer you peace, know that I figure we need it most deeply yet again with our closest neighbors, like family members.

But sharing peace also is the moment to see that familiarity is not what binds us. Nobody is a stranger or outsider, since it is Christ’s peace that brings us together. We need to keep practicing that and living into it, week after week.

Having that feeling from worship—so intimate and so expansive and so hugely different from what the world feeds us in hatreds and differences—makes this practice true for me. That sense goes back to my deepest and earliest connection to Christianity. I don’t say connection to God, since that’s inseparable and was established before I was born and was confirmed in my baptism at 3½ months old. But in middle school, I came to see the peacemaking as unique and valuable, that the earliest Christians refused to take up the sword of empire, and yet were the ones who remained in danger to offer nursing care. This nonviolence is far braver than the cheap bravado of threats. So I was a Boy Scout leading the pledge of allegiance over the loudspeaker in my school, but with a dedication to citizenship apart from the patronizing patriotism of militarization.

I was in 6th grade during the first Gulf War. Even though the social statement says we Lutherans support discernment about just wars, that war seemed wrong to me then. Later, I was on my internship when we protested by the thousands, then watched on TV Baghdad flashing horribly with shock and awe. It has continued ceaselessly for 15 years now. That’s a war longer than the whole time I’d been alive when I was coming to believe war is wrong.

This has remained at the core of my faith and was deepened in my understanding of the identity of Jesus. A friend and I started a seminary group called INViTE—Integrating Non-Violence into Theological Education. I wrote in my final seminary paper about how much more effective and cheaper (and, of course, faithful) it would be to take the ridiculous amounts we put into planes and missiles and nuclear devices—a project we name “national security” even though it is a spiral of escalating violence making us less safe—and invested instead in schools and hospitals and benefits for our foes, since what quicker way would there be to make enemies into friends?

To the ready claims that that’s naïve, the counter question is when sanctions and bombs and invasions actually achieve a truly positive result. And I would ask how in the world we could have faith in those destructive practices and still claim faith in the God of love we know in Jesus. We can’t fight terror without it becoming part of us. We can’t well make war while trusting in a God of peace. We can’t have ultimate loyalty to a flag and to God.

Even this morning, without weapons in our hands or camouflage on our backs, we are complicit. We’re complicit in sending others to do that work, often our young people who come home injured in body and mind. We’re complicit in funding with our taxes. We’re complicit in succumbing to idolatrous ideology. We’re captive to sin and cannot free ourselves, cannot liberate ourselves, are not independent.

We need the God of love and forgiveness, I realized throughout our time in Guatemala. I was proud that some of the MCC’s faithful observance of Independence Day was in a Spanish-speaking country whose poverty is in no small part because genocide came with our European ancestors, and violence supported our U.S. fruit corporations a century ago, and whose government was overthrown by our alleged “intelligence” agencies, with dictators and generals trained at our military schools for abuses of a 36-year civil war, ending only in 1996**. I need to cling to the loving, forgiving God of peace in Jesus because I was in Guatemala to help build a house for a poor family, but my country is—and so I am—complicit and responsible for them being poor to begin with.

I know that’s not a very pretty face on this. We often think of peace and quiet, serenity, peace with calm beauty, peace as a personal internal state. But like those early Christians, we realize this is a challenge requiring God’s promise and possibility for our dedication, our fortitude, our faith.

In Guatemala, I was reading words of Archbishop Oscar Romero from nearby El Salvador, assassinated by U.S.-backed soldiers while saying the Words of Institution in worship. One passage said, “Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent oppression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism.”*** In that spirit of inclusive energetic generosity, when Jesus instructs us not to resist evil violently, not to retaliate with the same vengeful destruction, he instead invites us into courageous nonviolent resistance that is powerfully creative in love.

If you’ve struggled with or wondered about Jesus’ words about being bullied, the background likely would help that a Roman soldier could force you to carry his pack one mile, but your first step into a second mile put him at risk for breaking the rules and so reversed who was in charge, taking the initiative away from the oppressor. Your cloak, an outer garment (Luke 6:29), might be a poor person’s last collateral, and if the rich demanded to sue for that debt, Jesus suggests leaving your tunic—essentially your underwear—as well and marching out of court buck naked in protest, shaming them in your nudity. Again, turning the other cheek is the opposite of submitting as a victim of violence. You could only be hit with the right hand (since the left was the toilet hand and could not be used for any sort of interaction). A backhand slap to the right cheek showed dominance, keeping an inferior in a lower place. But by turning a left cheek, you could only be struck by a fist, a denial of being humiliated and insisting on being treated as equals, which defiantly changed either the social structure or else the desire for the powerful to risk losing their upper hand. ****

We recognize similar creative courageous challenges confronting the rule of empire with bodies taking up a cross throughout history. This spirit of dignity and life and even humor in the face of what would take it all away is godly practice. Such is the reconciliation to break down dividing walls of hostility between humanity. Such is a “world about to turn.” Such is the desire to share grace and love abundantly, refusing to call others enemies or aliens, but to share the victory. Such is the peacemaking action of the children of God. Such is the enlivening of the kingdom of God. To me, this is Jesus, and I hope you’ll be part of it.

* http://elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Peace

** www.soaw.org/about-the-soawhinsec/soawhinsec-grads/notorious-grads/239-notorious-graduates-from-guatemala

*** The Violence of Love, p27

**** Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way, Walter Wink, ch.2

 

PRAYERS

In peace, in peace let us pray to the Lord.

 

Lord, have mercy. For the wellbeing of the church of God, we pray that in these gatherings and enlivened by the liturgy of your church, you would give us faith and courage to be your children, by your Holy Spirit to mold and equip us to live as peacemakers, to practice sharing together what you would have us become and being a sanctuary in time of desperation.

 

We realize that battlefields cannot be fruitful farm fields, that our killing corrupts not only humanity but causes destruction for your creation. Make us your creative agents who bring about life for all.

 

For the peace of the whole world, we pray for the good for Afghanistan and Iran, for Iraq and Syria, for Palestine and Israel, for the Koreas, for China, Guatemala and Mexico, for all refugees who flee from a bad life and hope for better, and most especially for our nation and for us as citizens here, that we can break down dividing walls and strive on behalf of all our neighbors and seek creative solutions to sustain wellbeing.

 

For our personal peace, for our relationships that require reconciliation, for the threats to our own dignity or the ways we are complicit in dehumanizing others, for all that would threaten us, including fear and irrational striving for security, for the peace of our souls—body, spirit, mind.

 

For peace at the last, not only that we would be able to go in peace from this weekly worship, but that you sustain us in the peace the world cannot give so we trust we are in your eternal embrace through this life and far beyond it.

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