Tuesday, December 24, 2019


Lectionary readings can be found here
Imagining Hope
It began innocently enough, it was Sunday School of course…
And the children, the children, were asked to consider what they imagined angels to look like.
Anticipating talk of halos and wings…the grown-ups waited for the predictable answers.
But, children are anything but predictable.
You can imagine.
Wings of fire. Eyes alight. In human form. A monstrous sight.
You can imagine.
And so, can they. And this is where the dinosaur enters the pageant, stage left. And, here is the traveling cat with his tiger print slippers. And, here is the baby and there are the sheep. And, an Angel of the Lord…
An angel of the Lord, whose terror and glory inspires fear and trembling.
You can imagine.
How it was.
You can only imagine how it was.
There are no photos, no baby book or lock of hair.
There is no record of his birth.
Other than a story. A story that would capture the imaginations of us all…
And one told another and another told another…so on and so forth through time and space until, we reach this point in time. This point in this place where we gather to tell the story again. To read, mark, and inwardly digest the improbable, wonderful, and beautiful truth of God become us. Become one of us.
And, the best, perhaps the only way to begin to imagine, is to consider one of us. To begin with a human baby. To begin with a child. To begin with the encapsulated hope for a lifetime.
The pageant begins with a proclamation, a teenager processes down the aisle, confronting the evils of the world with her words.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood 
shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 
For a child has been born for us,

She prophesies. This child, standing between us and the evils of this world. She cries out.
A child has been born for us.
Dividing the waters, making a way out of the chaos and into the calm of creation.
A child has been born for us.
A child has proclaimed it.
Listen. Listen to the children prophesy!
They prophesy! Around the world, the children prophesy!  
And, from the baptistry, a baby cries.
Six weeks old. Nestled against the woman who bore him, he has no words. Yet his voice is mighty.
We pause in wonder at the immensity of his presence. So small, so, so small. Yet he is everything in this moment—upstaging us all.
The grace of God has appeared.
Angels and animals lean in to see. This grace. This grace made manifest in our midst.
He is one of us.
He is us.
And, it is this fragile, mewing, creation that is prophesied to stand in the breach.
This is it. This is all.
And, we wonder, that a baby like this, a baby like us, became the baby of our salvation.
Imagine. On this night when we mark his birth, imagine.
God in the flesh, abiding in us, always with us, born in us.
Born in us,
a baby who will change the course of the world in his breath and in his being.
Fully human, full divine.  This baby will change everything.
This baby will…
But, tonight he is simply a baby. Swaddled tight against the night.
And all our hopes and all our dreams.
They press in on the scene.
Come for us. Come for us!
Lord Jesus, come for us!
And our cries are answered.
Our cries are answered.
And, a baby is born.
But, not just any baby, EVERY baby. Every baby is born into the hopes we hold, into this world we inhabit.
Listen, all of you. Each and every one of you. Each and every one of you, once a baby, now grown, now the home of the abiding Christ. You, YOU are the culmination of hopes and dreams. You are the possible of God’s love. You are.
And, when we enact the story of God’s salvation we turn story into flesh. We turn the Word into the World. We become the story. We are the story.
The story of hope.
The story of an unceasing love.
The story of one become many. One become the body. One become flesh. One become us.
The body of Christ in the world.
The body born anew this night.
The body that stands in the space between hope and fear, between love and hate, between what is and what might be.
The body of Christ.
We are the body of Christ.
And on this night, my heart aches with the joy of who we are. Of who we will be.
When Christ is born in us.
Born not for Christmas, but for the fullness of God’s love.
Dear friends in Christ, let us live as the hope of the world. Let us take this one moment in time as a beginning of all that might be and live. Live as Christ’s body, doing the work that will bring peace to this world.
I want to end with the words of theologian Howard Thurman. His poem, “The Work of Christmas” reminds us of why this story matters to us and to the world,
“When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.”
The poem “The Work of Christmas” is from Howard Thurman’s The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Advent 2A, 2019, Pray

The readings appointed can be found here
If you would like to listen to an audio file of this sermon, click here


This day is, the day has been, the day will come. And, this, this is our Advent season of already but not yet, and this is a day when we hear comfort and castigation. And so, on this day, we're going to start by reflecting on the what was, in order to understand the what is, and in consideration of what shall be. 

Let's begin in the 8th century BCE...

This portion of the book of the prophet Isaiah arose out of the 8th century and a very specific crisis--Judah’s war with Syria and Israel.  Weak governance and a lack of trust in God in public life was deemed by the prophet to be the source of the struggles for the people of Israel.  Throughout the book those in power, those who would exploit the poor and oppress the needy are castigated and called to remember that the justice of God will ultimately prevail. 

Then, once human abuses are rectified, the earth will return to the state that God intends--a place of peaceful coexistance.  This is the hope that carries the poor and the oppressed--the hope that they will be liberated from oppression by the intervention, the salvation, of the Creator who has called them into being. The intervention of God in world affairs is central to this prophetic vision. It’s not human initiative, but divine imperative—all will be set aright and God WILL reclaim creation for God’s purposes. 

God’s purposes…equity, peace, and the knowledge of God.

A knowledge that transcends human knowledge of power, greed, and hate, and infuses the earth with the true knowledge of God’s all-powerful love for every aspect of creation. An all-powerful love that refuses to allow anyone to accrue power, wealth, success, or status, at the expense of another.

Wow. Take a moment and consider this. Consider what it means that we worship a God whose vision for creation is one of complete equity for all creation. All creation. The earth left unspoiled, predator and prey at peace, and the powerful laid low so that the poor can prosper.

What would be different if this is how Christians lived? If this was how we lived, in relationship with each other and with the earth and its creatures…

This would radically upset everything we know. This would turn the table on our expectations of how the world works. This would transform the world we know—and not, perhaps, to our personal benefit.

Which brings me to today, today when I can’t help but think about the ongoing conversations about restructuring the Minneapolis Public School District. I find myself considering the signs outside of stately homes in Minneapolis neighborhoods, signs that read “Don’t bulldoze my neighborhood”. I’m thinking about school levies and lunches. I’m thinking about deportation and demographics. I’m thinking about property taxes and trash removal. 

I’m thinking about all of the issues that we face in which some "lose" and others "win" and where I stand when the rubber hits the road--when I am faced with issues in which what God would want is in conflict with my own privilege, my own comfort, and my own self interest.  

To be clear, I’m not passing judgement on sides or perspectives on any of these issues—and honestly, on some of these issues, I’m unsure what the “right” answer, for all of us is. But, I do know that some of these issues affect me personally, and I’m faced with the dilemma of what is “right” when I recognize that my own security is coming at another person’s expense.

And, this? This is the reckoning.

Are we sure we want Christmas to come?

Christmas…for some it is a hope. Shepherds' hope and angels glory. For others? For others, it is a threat--a threat to their privilege, a threat to their way of life, a threat. King Herod was certainly unsettled by the birth of a rumored king.

Hope and threat. 

And, I wonder...will we flee or will we stay if the vote or the board doesn't go our way? Will we advocate for changes if they require OUR personal sacrifice for the good of others? 

And, I find myself convicted by John the Baptist’s address, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance.”

the Reverend Greg Klimovitz, a Presbyterian pastor, writes of this passage, “We are confronted with similar questions as those posed to the ancient crowds, is our witness reflective of our identity as the children of God or as the hatchlings of systems designed to maintain power and privilege? Do we breed liberating goodness or infuse toxic venom into our neighborhoods? Is our professed allegiance to God’s kingdom come mere deception to our preference for the control of others?”

Try posting that on Next Door, "are you breeding liberating goodness or infusing toxic venom in our neighborhood?"

I know that these are not easy questions. This is not an easy address.

And, it is awful to consider—it is Awe-Full to consider, how one person’s greatest hope can be another’s greatest fear. Facing the question being posed today, will we harm or heal? Will we live at the expense of others, or give of ourselves for all?

For all, not some. For all.

“May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Hear Paul’s petition, may you live in harmony and with one voice glorify God. This petition expresses a yearning, a yearning born of a world in which division and conflict were the backdrop to day to day life.

We’ve touched on the political and social crisis’ of the 8th century BCE. But, we haven’t yet considered the political backdrop to Jesus’ birth. Economic exploitation, the casual cruelty of Rome, puppet kings, and political peril. Mary’s magnificat is a manifesto for a people who are experiencing abuse, enslavement, persecution and peril. It can feel jarring to remember in this season the terror that caused Jesus’ family to flee across the border with him into Egypt—but, that’s the world in which these texts emerged. And, for many, this remains the world in which they live.

Later today, at our Advent liturgy of lessons and carols, we will hear a passage written by Archbishop Oscar Romero on Christmas Eve, 1978.

We debated including this writing in the service, would it dampen the mood, would people object? 

Would folks be mad? 

Or, would we all find cause to examine our lives in consideration of our own need for God?

Would we all find within ourselves, not necessarily a physical poverty, but a poverty of spirit?

Would we find ourselves in solidarity with those who long for God?

So now, without further adieu, the contentious piece,

No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas
without being truly poor.
The self-sufficient,
the proud,
those who, because they have everything,
look down on others,
those who have no need even of God –

for them there will be no Christmas.
Only the poor,
the hungry,
those who need someone to come on their behalf,
will have that someone.
That someone is God,
Without poverty of spirit
there can be no abundance of God.

Oscar Romero, December 24, 1978

Having heard these words, consider your hearts. 

Consider where you are impoverished. 

Consider, how you, you can be, in your physical body, the God-with-us of the Body of Christ...

The one who shows up on behalf, the one who brings Christmas to those who long for the promised day. 

And, then, pray.

Pray, for Christmas to come. For the poor. For immigrants and refugees. For our neighbors. For ourselves.




Because this is the issue confronting my family right now, and what inspired this particular sermon, here are some links to information about the Minneapolis Public School's Comprehensive District Design Plan:

From proponents of the plan:

Student placement diversity and equity impact assessment--this is the document I found the most edifying,

From a blog that unpacks some of the issues in the plan where spin is being created to direct the district towards a specific outcome,