Listen Up Nation! Seth’s Got Something to Say

SETH SMILE MCM TRAINING 2

On Sunday, during the Marine Corps Marathon in our nation’s capital, Seth Allen, who has Cerebral Palsy and Autism, will not recognize the White House, and he doesn’t have a strong opinion about who currently occupies it. When we roll by the US Capitol, Seth will not think of his Representative or his Senator from Oklahoma. The Supreme Court will be just another large building. When we pass by the monuments on the National Mall, Seth may not recognize them or understand who or what they memorialize. When we pass by the WWII and Vietnam Memorials, and when we start and finish near Arlington Cemetery, Seth will not grasp the significance.

For Seth, it will be just another race with Ainsley’s Angels, one that he participates in every month. I am sure he will notice that the course is much longer and has more runners; however, for Seth, the joy he experiences may be no greater than the joy he receives from participating in a small local 5k.

So, why spend all the money? Why travel all the way to Washington DC from Roland, Oklahoma? Why roll 26.2 miles?

Seth’s father George perhaps answered these questions best when he said: “Because this land is his land too.”

Seth’s inclusion with over 30 other Athlete Riders with Ainsley’s Angels in what is called “the People’s Marathon” powerfully proclaims the words inscribed in the granite of the Jefferson Memorial:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The inclusion of Ainsley’s Angels in the Marine Corps Marathon declares to the occupant of the White House, to each lawmaker at the Capitol, to the judges seated on the Supreme Court, and to the entire nation: “Regardless of ability, difficulties, individual differences, unique characteristics, and different needs, ALL are created equal. ALL have a right to live. ALL have a right to love. ALL are worthy to be free. All are worthy of respect. ALL deserve to be happy. ALL deserve to be included.”

And if we continue to vote for this principle in two weeks, Seth’s smile at the finish line near the sacred grave markers of Arlington will reveal to the world that those who sacrificed their lives for this nation did not do so in vain.

And this will certainly not be “just another race.”

 

 

 

Accepting a Topsy-Turvy Gospel

Brett Medal

Mark 10:35-45 NRSV

We live in in some very dark times. These are difficult days to be a minister. These are difficult days to be the church. These are tough times to raise children. It is more than evident that the spirit of the anti-Christ is in this world. The spirit of the anti-Christ seems to have a grip on this nation, and it has even infiltrated the church. False prophets are everywhere.

Of course, this is nothing new. John put it in words 2,000 years ago:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world.

As Disciples of Christ were creating a movement to return to the simple teachings of Jesus in the 19thcentury, German philosopher and cultural critic Friedrich Nietsche were denigrating those teachings calling them “a slave morality.”

Nietshche noted that Christianity seemed to be most popular among the people in his day who were at were at the bottom— the poor, women, children, people with disabilities, people of color, and slaves. He accused Christianity of giving hope to those at the bottom and offering very little to those at the top.

His criticism served as a warning to the church: “If you are not careful, if you keep teaching the Gospel of Jesus, you might fill your churches up with the wrong type of people.”

So, the false prophets went to work. Rejecting the gospel of Jesus, they began to preach and teach the antitheses of Jesus. “God only helps those who help themselves,” they declared. “Women should be submissive to men, at home, in the work place, in government and in the church,” they asserted. “Children should be seen and not heard and can be exploited for their labor,” they affirmed. “Jesus was a white man,” they pronounced in artistic portrayals. “God’s Word sanctions slavery,” they argued.

Today, an anti-Christ spirit still haunts this land. “They are lazy and entitled,” they tweet. “Her voice is too shrill” they post. “They are too young to have a voice!” they shout. “We need to stop the caravan!” they clamor. “God calls them abominations,” they preach.

When Jesus first predicts what would have to suffer and die, the disciples immediately reject it.” Simon Peter pulls Jesus aside and strongly rebukes him. When he makes his second prediction, the disciples “jostle for position” arguing with one another: “who is the greatest.” And now, after a third and more detailed prediction of what was going to happen to him, James and John approach Jesus “on the sly” and say: “[Do us a favor and grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

Jesus had just laid all of the cards out on the table—the condemnation, the mockery, the spitting, the flogging, the death—and James and John seem to accept none of it. The two of them had no clue that the ones who would end up on Jesus’ right and his left would be hanging on crosses!”

When the ten become angry with James and John for making their request, Jesus realizes that they are still confused about the nature of God’s Kingdom.  So as New Testament Scholar Martin Copenhaver has said, “he does a little remedial work with them.”  Changing the subject from the ultimate act of self-giving love on the cross, Jesus talks about other forms of self-giving.  Once again, Jesus reverses our expectations, and says that to be great is to be a servant, even as he came himself to be a servant.

 

Last week, I said Jesus’ teachings turns our word upside down.

  • The first shall be last and the last shall be first.
  • To save ourselves we must lose ourselves.
  • To live we must die.
  • To get back at you enemies, love them.
  • To obtain riches, give everything you have to the poor.
  • A woman’s two copper coins, worth only a few cents, has more value than large bags of money that others put into the temple treasury.
  • The eyes of the blind see more clearly than the eyes of those with 20/20 vision.
  • The poor are filled with good things, whereas the rich are sent away empty.
  • A poor beggar named Lazarus is resting by Abraham’s side, whereas the rich man is begging for mercy.
  • A tax collector leaves the worship justified, whereas the Pharisee does not.
  • The grown-up religious leaders are like poisonous snakes, whereas little children are like the kingdom of God.
  • Foreign Samaritans are role models, whereas a priest and a rabbi are not.
  • The prodigal son gets a pair sandals, a ring, a fatted calf, a big party with music and dancing, whereas the responsible son gets nothing.
  • Religion is condemned, whereas sin is forgiven.
  • The female disciples are the first to proclaim: “He is risen!” whereas the male disciples are cowering behind locked doors.

Copenhaver observes: “The lesson [in Mark chapter 10] bears repeating, because we are continually trying to straighten up the order of things that Jesus turned topsy-turvy.”

I have experienced this on more than one occasion working with Ainsley’s Angels. I believe that the Ainsley’s Angels’ mission of radical inclusion mirrors the topsy-turvy teachings of Jesus. And because of that, the mission is sometimes rejected.

I have been told by race directors that our children and adults who are differently-abled are not welcomed at their races. We “create too much angst to be in their race,” they said. “Only the physically-abled and the physically-fit should be in a marathon,” some runners grumbled. Others have said that we are what is wrong with this nation, that “not everyone deserves a trophy or deserves to be in a marathon.”

The good news is that there are many people who have accepted the radical, topsy-turvy Gospel of Jesus. They have stood firm and have rejected the spirit of the anti-Christ that is in our land and are following the radical way of Christ.

There’s a church and a community that is helping to send a young man with Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy and Autism to the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC. This is a marathon in our nation’s capital called “The People’s Marathon.” And it’s a marathon that is more than happy to include him.

There is a church that begins their worship service uplifting and dedicating small little children, because they know they are the keys to the Kingdom of God. And there are parents and grandparents who are willing to sacrifice everything for those children.

There is a church that has ordained both men and women as ministers, ministers who have never lorded over their congregations, but selflessly served alongside their congregations.

The good news is there are several churches in this city that are open and affirming to all people regardless of race, ability, gender identity, sexual orientation, or political affiliation.

The good news is there are people everywhere who have heeded Jesus’ command to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and welcome to the stranger.

There are volunteers who have left the comfort of home to help survivors of recent hurricanes.

There are teachers, social workers, and childcare workers, who sacrifice much to educate, protect and care for the children of this world.

There are people with empathy who are marching and organizing and giving all that they have to create a nation with less racial, social, economic and environmental injustice.

There are people who believe Black Lives Matter, and of course, they also believe Blue lives matter, as they have created an organization called PACE, Police and Community Engagement that creates safe place for conversation.

There are law enforcement officers and firefighters who are willing to lay down their lives to protect and serve their communities.

There are artists who are imagining a more just and equitable world.

There are women refusing to be kept silent by patriarchal powers of oppression.

There are children speaking truth to power by saying “enough is enough” to violence.

There are soldiers still willing to sacrifice their lives for liberty and justice for all.

There are elderly who spend their well-earned retirement volunteering at the hospital.

There are voters who care about the things Jesus cares about who are going to the polls.

Dan Rather has noted: “[There’s] the city bus driver who waits patiently for an elderly rider, the crossing guard who gives the children a bright smile, the doctor who volunteers to treat the homeless, the ranger in a national park who introduces a city kid to the wonder of tall trees.”

In other words, although many have surrendered to the spirit of the anti-Christ, rejecting the teachings of Jesus for possessions, position, privilege and power, there are many who have accepted this Topsy-Turvy Gospel—And because of that, a light shines in the darkness.

Thanks be to God.

I’ve Got Some Bad News, and I’ve Got Some Good News

economy stupid

Mark 10:17-21 NRSV

I’ve got some bad news and some good news.  Let me give you the bad news first—for that is the order that it comes to us through this morning’s scripture lesson.  The bad news comes early.  The very first line sets the ominous tone: “As he was setting out on a journey…”  And we all know where that journey takes Jesus, don’t we? The betrayal, the denials, the condemnation, the mocking and the crowds cheering it on, the crucifixion, death.

The bad news is that the journey we are on as followers of Jesus leads us to the cross. It leads us to places that we would rather not go. It leads us to sacrifice and self-expenditure. It leads us down a road that turns our world upside down. To be first, we must be last. To be great, we must be a servant. To save our lives, we must lose our lives. To live, we must die.

Furthermore, this morning’s lesson teaches that the really bad news is that this journey is especially difficult for certain people.

“A man runs up to Jesus, kneels before him and asks a very good question: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus replies: “You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.”

“Teacher, I have kept all of these since my youth.”

Jesus, I have been going to Sabbath School since I as a little boy!

Mark says Jesus then looked at the man, and loved the man and said, “But you lack one thing. Go sell everything you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

When the man heard this, he was shocked. And he went a way grieving, for he had many possessions.  Can the news be any worse?

This is bad news because here we have a very good man, a law-abiding man, a frequent synagogue goer, a religious man, a sincere seeker, who is unable to answer the call of Jesus to become one of his disciples.

In fact, I believe this is the only instance in the Gospels where Jesus calls someone, and that call is rejected.

And here is the really bad news for us. The reason the call of Jesus is rejected is wealth. He is unable to follow Jesus, unable to experience, life, abundant and eternal, because he has a lot of stuff.

This is a discouraging teaching for those who live in a culture that believes wealth is the answer to all of life’s problems. It is no secret that the voters of this country elect their leaders based on what? The leader’s IQ? Nope. The leader’s moral values? Oh, heck no! The leader’s sense of compassion and empathy for others? Ha! The leader’s anti-racist, anti-sexist sentiments? Lord, have mercy!

It was the campaign strategist of Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign who answered that question most clearly when he said, “It’s the economy stupid.”

What our nation values the most is wealth. And we seem to be willing to sacrifice everything that is good and decent and holy to achieve it.

And look where that has got us as a nation today. Bob Marley knew what he was talking about when he said: “Money is numbers and numbers never end. If it takes money to be happy, your search for happiness will never end.”

The spirit of greed that possesses and guides this nation is bad news when we realize that people with wealth, folks with lots of stuff, do not fair very well in the Bible. Jesus said it is as harder to get someone like that saved than it is to get a camel through an eye of a needle.

That’s the bad news.  Now, are you ready for the good news? The good news is that this is not the end of this morning’s lesson.

Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible [for someone with lots of stuff to receive eternal life] but not for God; for God all things are possible.’

Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.

The good news is that with God all things are possible. And the good news is that this is one of the few times in the gospel story that ol’ Peter opens his big mouth and blurts out something without getting pulled aside and rebuked by Jesus.

Peter says: “Lord, we have left everything—homes, family, friends, jobs—and we have followed you!”

Peter is saying we are not like the one who came inquiring about eternal life, only to be shocked and grieved by your strange answers. Although you turned our world upside down, although you said things to us like the first shall be last and the last shall be first, and to be the greatest we must be a servant, to save ourselves we must lose ourselves, to live we must die, when you called us, we dropped everything.

We let go of a lot to follow you.  And although we do not understand half, a third, ok Jesus, one fourth of the things you teach us, although you scare us to death when you talk about being arrested, tried and crucified, we’re still here.  We didn’t walk away.  We’ve stayed the course and kept the faith.  We may not understand everything, but we listen! Well, every now and again we might fall asleep, but sometimes we take notes.

The good news is that our lesson this morning does not end with the rejection of one greedy man. It ends with a promise from Jesus:

“I promise you, for everything you have given up, I will give you much more.  For everything you have turned your back upon, I will give you a hundred times more.”

Now, are you ready for the really good news?

None of you in this room are like the one who came inquiring about eternal life, only to be shocked and grieved by Jesus’ strange answer. Although Jesus turned your world upside down, although he said things to you like the first shall be last and the last shall be first and to be the greatest you must be a servant, to live you must die, when Jesus called you, you answered the call. You let go of a lot to follow him. And although you do not understand half, a third, ok Jesus, one fourth of the things Jesus teaches you, although most of you don’t even remember last week’s sermon, although Jesus scares you to death when you read of him talking about being arrested, tried and crucified, you’re still here. You’ve not walked away. You’ve stayed the course. You’ve kept the faith.  You may not understand everything you hear, yet you come to this place week after week after week and you listen. Yes, sometimes you fall asleep.  But sometimes, some of you even take notes.

Although every muscle in your body aches and your knees and hips are worn out, and it hurts to walk and it hurts to sit, and it hurt to stand, you somehow make it to this place every Sunday you can. When you wanted to pull the covers up over your heads and sleep in on this cool Sunday morning, you got up. You got yourself ready and you came. You are here.

And not only are you here to listen to these strange teachings of Jesus, you have decided to follow him on a journey that leads to the cross.  You have decided to follow Jesus on a journey that leads to sacrifice and self-expenditure.

Some of you have given up wealth as you decided to work only part-time so you could spend more time with your children at home.

Some of you have turned down job promotions that would have brought you untold riches so you could stay here and take care of family.

And many of you, although you don’t have to, and really don’t want to, have made commitments to be selfless servants. To prepare and serve sandwiches to the food-insecure. To prepare and serve meals at Hope Campus. To visit a nursing home. To advocate for someone with special needs.  To volunteer at the hospital. To be a deacon, an elder or a Sunday School teacher. To work with our children and youth. To give to a hurricane relief fund. To do whatever you can, and whatever it takes to make this world a better place.

And even those of you who feel like you do not do that much in the church, you still contribute something that is very precious to all of us. Something that only you can contribute. The greatest gift of all.  You give us the gift of yourself. You contribute your presence. You are here. And I know I am speaking for many when I say, “I am a better person because of it!”

The bad news is the story of this man with a lot of stuff ends with grieving and rejection. The good news is that his story is not your story. For even when you were shocked by Jesus’ teaching, you dropped everything and followed him nonetheless.  And your story ends with a promise from Jesus.  Thanks be to God.

This at Last

godsnotfinished

Genesis 2:18-24 NRSV

Americans have always had a high regard for independence. We believe in a staunch individual ethic that leads people to step up, step out, and stand on their own two feet. We look up to those who are able to look after themselves, to take care of number one, to be responsible, to be independent. And we tend to look down on those who are dependent on others for their survival.

This is arguably the greatest virtue of our society, the aspiration of every boy and girl. Study hard, grow up, move out on your own, and get a good job, so you can become self-sufficient, self-reliant, self-supporting. And bookstore shelves and YouTube videos labeled, “Do-it-yourself” and “Self-help” are filled with books and videos to help us keep our independence. Anything else and you are considered to be a failure, worthless, no count, lazy, good-for-nothing. Yes, in our society, independence is what it is all about.

Many grocery stores now have “self-checkout” lines that are almost always available no waiting. If you are smart enough to check your own groceries, if you have good ol’ American wherewithal and work ethic, if you are responsible and have learned to really be independent, if you have elevated yourself to a place where the assistance of a Wal-Mart cashier is truly beneath you, then you’ve earned the right not to wait in line.

Independence. It is what makes turning 16 and getting your driver’s license so wonderful, and it is what makes the day the doctor or your children take the car keys away from you so dreadful. It is what makes owning a home the American dream, and what makes the thought of moving into nursing home a nightmare.

Perhaps more than any other day, we fear the day we lose our independence. It is the reason we save for retirement, eat right, take our vitamins and exercise; so we can remain independent to the bitter end.

This is why coming to church can sometimes be confusing, and oftentimes, challenging. We come to church and open our Bibles only to discover that God’s ideals and virtues are oftentimes very different from our own. We come to church to reaffirm our beliefs, only to have God call those beliefs into question.

On the very first pages of our Bible, we learn that the first thing that God said was “not good” was, guess what? Our independence.

“This is not good,” says the Lord, “I will have to keep working, continue creating, to make you a partner, a co-equal, someone on whom you can depend to help you be the person that I have created you to be.”

So out of the ground, the Lord formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air.

And then the man searched high and low. He became acquainted with each creature so closely, that he was able to name each one. But out of all of the animals that he encountered, and out of all of the birds that he watched, he could not find a single suitable companion, a partner on whom he could depend, a co-equal with whom he could share a mutual relationship and an intimate communion.

But God did not give up. God was not finished. God was intent on helping the first human be the person he was created to be. So God kept working. God continued creating. However, this time, not from the ground; but from the man himself.

As the man slept, God removed one of his ribs and used that rib to make a woman. Instead of forming another human being from the ground, God split the first human being into two beings and then presented her to the man. It was then that the man said:

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;”

This at last is the relationship for which have been searching.

This at last is the beloved communion for which I have been longing.

This at last is my partner, my companion, my confidant, my sister.

This at last is my equal with whom I can be mutually connected.

This at last is someone on whom I can depend.

This at last is what I have needed to be the person that God has created me to be.

This at last is one that I must love as myself, for…

“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

 

This is why we are to love others as we love ourselves. And this describes every man and every woman. We are co-equals, mutually connected and bound together.

This should describe the moment patriarchy died, the moment misogyny and sexism, racism and bigotry, became implausible. However, we know all too well that this is not what happened.

The good news is that this is not the end of God’s creative story.

The good news is God was not finished with God’s new beloved community. God knew that an even greater communion was needed if we were ever going to be the persons that God has created us to be. So God kept working. God continued creating. And, this time, God took it one step further.

God looked at God’s beloved community. God saw the good in it, but also the wicked in it. God saw the sexual assault. God saw the domestic violence. God saw the hate, the mocking and the crowds cheering it on. And God knew that it could be so much better.

So, God, God’s holy self, decided to join the community! God came to be with us, and God came to be one of us. God came to show us the way. God became flesh. God became bone. And God’s beloved community called him “Jesus.”

And one night, as Jesus sat with his beloved community at a table, he took bread and broke it, and blessed it, saying, “This is my body.” Then he took the cup, saying, “This is my blood.”

And here we are this morning. We have gathered here this morning at a table with Christians from all over the world, mutually connected, depending on one another and communing with one another, but also depending on and communing with a Savior, singing together in one voice:

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;”

This at last is the relationship for which we have been searching.

This at last is the beloved communion for which we have been longing.

This at last is our partner, our companion, our confidant, our brother.

This at last is someone with whom we can be mutually and eternally connected.

This at last is someone on whom we can truly depend.

This at last is what we have always needed, all we will ever need, to be the persons that God has created us to be.

This at last is the One who reminds us that we are all interconnected by the love of our God who never gives up on us, who keeps working and keeps creating until the whole creation understands that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, but we are all one in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

One day, I was talking with someone who was dying with cancer. He told me that his illness had demonstrated to him the things that were truly important in life. He said, “And the funny thing is, that they are the opposite of what I always thought was important.”

He said: “I never knew how many friends I had until I got sick. And I never realized just how important they are. Jarrett, the truth is, ‘We really do need a little help from our friends.’”

Before his illness he admitted that what he had valued more than anything in the world was his independence, “but no more,” he said, “no more.”

Then he said: “Maybe that is why God created us to depend on one another. It is like some kind of training.”

“Training?”

“Yes, training,” he said, “because the most important thing in this life is to reach a point where we learn to be dependent on God, to reach to a point sometime before we die, where we have truly put our lives into the hands of God.”

It was as if he was saying: “No more! Because, now I see it. Now, I get it. In my most vulnerable, most dependent state, now, I know it. This at last is what life is all about!”

This at last is why we are here: to learn be in relationships; to learn to depend on one another; to learn care for one another; to understand that at last we are all related; we are all equal; we are all united; we are all one;

And as we depend on each other, we learn to depend on the One on whom we can depend on forevermore;

the One who came to us at last;

the One who came to be with us and for us;

the One who came to show us how to be the people God created us to be;

the One who is still not finished;

the One who is still creating and recreating, working to transform this world God loves by calling disciples, ministers and prophets, male and female, in every country on every continent; We learn to depend on this One:

This at last, Christ, our brother, our teacher, our Lord and our Savior, bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh.[i]

[i]Inspired from: This at Last!, An Intergenerational Liturgy for World Communion Sunday, Nineteenth Sunday of Pentecost year B, was written by the Rev. Dr. Laurel Koepf Taylor, Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Eden Theological Seminary, Saint Louis, Missouri.