Time to Get the Hell Out

 

get the hell outIt is time to get going. It is time to move. We need to get the hell out of this country now.

It is difficult to leave behind what we have always known, but we need to do it, and we need to do it now. It is time to go. It is time to get the hell out of here.

We need to get the hell that is racism out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is sexism out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is selfishness and greed out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is xenophobia, Islamophobia, and homophobia out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is hate out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is demagoguery out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is White Christian Nationalism out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is denial, silence and apathy out of this country now.

We need to protest it out, pray it out, preach it out, run it out, vote it out, or impeach it out. We need to love the hell out of this country. We need to love every anti-Christ part of it out. Now is the time for good people to get going, to start moving, to work together, to get the hell out of this country now.

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Go Back to Where You Came From

go back to where you came from

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Go back to the time of Jim Crow when discrimination and segregation was the law. Go back to that place where people of color were terrorized with cross-burnings, church-burnings and lynchings.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time before women had the right to healthcare, the right to vote and the right to work outside the home.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time in history when human beings were sold and treated as property. Go back to that place where human beings were chained, shackled and whipped.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time when indigenous Americans were considered to be soul-less creatures who could be hunted, killed and displaced like animals. Go back to that time women like Pocahontas were kidnapped and raped by colonizers without remorse.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time when the state controlled religion in order to control people. Go back to that place where Christianity was used to support slavery, genocide, the castrations of gay people, and the hanging of women suspected to be witches.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time when Christians terrorized anyone who did not fall in line with their understanding of God and the world. Go back to that place where they put free-thinking women like Jan Hus and Joan of Arc on a stake and set them on fire.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time before Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love our neighbors as ourselves. Go back to that time before the prophet Micah proclaimed that the one thing God requires is to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.

Please, go back to where you came from. Because this is 2019. It is not 1919, 1819, 1619 or any other dark time in human history.

The “gods” Are on Trial

Men in cages

Psalm 82 NRSV

In March 2005, a woman contacted Florida’s Palm Beach Police Department and alleged that her 14-year-old stepdaughter had been taken to Jeffery Epstein’s mansion.

In June 2008, after Epstein pleaded guilty to a single state charge of soliciting prostitution from girls as young as 14,he was sentenced to 18 months in prison. However, instead of being sent to state prison as are the majority of sex offenders convicted in Florida, Epstein was housed in a private wing of the Palm Beach County Jail. He was able to hire his own security detail and was allowed “work release” to his downtown office for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week. He served 13 months before being released for a year of probation. While on probation he was allowed numerous trips on his corporate jet to his residences in Manhattan and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Palm Beach police chief accused the state of giving him preferential treatment, and the Miami Herald said U.S. Attorney Acosta gave Epstein “the deal of a lifetime”

Last week, Epstein was arrested in New Jersey on sex trafficking charges. According to witnesses and sources, about a dozen FBI agents broke down the door to Epstein’s Manhattan townhouse with search warrants. Two days later, prosecutors charged him with sex trafficking and conspiracy to traffic minors. Court documents allege that at least 40 underage girls were brought into Epstein’s mansion.

Jeffrey Epstein has finally been brought to court for his crimes.

And at least 40 women with their families say: “It’s about time!”

Today, we’ve heard the Psalmist account of the gods who have finally been brought to court for their crimes. And the world says: “It’s about time!”

Perhaps it was Job who said it the best when he looked at the state of the world around him and observed:

The earth is given into the hands of the wicked; God covers the eyes of its judges (Job 9:24).

The truth is that Job speaks for many of us when he asks:

Why do the wicked live on, reach an old age, and grow mighty in power…Their houses are safe from fear, and no rod of God is upon them (Job 21:7-9).

We look at the conditions at the border that Vice President Mike Pence calls “unacceptable” and with Job we lament:

             The poor of the earth all hide themselves. The throat of the wounded cries for help; yet God pays no attention to their prayer (Job 24:4-12).

Job painfully observes that things on earth are not good. Injustice is thriving. Evil seems to be winning. Kindness is waning. Love seems to be failing. Whoever is in charge of things down here needs to give an accounting. The gods must be taken to court! The gods must be brought to trial.

Pollution has created an ecological crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. We have dishonest and greedy politicians Washington; Child abuse and inhumane conditions at the border; Drug addiction in Fort Smith; and ICE Raids in ten cities throughout our country on this the Lord’s Day, the Christian Sabbath. We have racism, poverty, homelessness, violence spreading around the world. We have perpetual war; inequality, White Christian Nationalism; Climate Change, bigotry, sexism, and sick religion.

Whoever is responsible for the pain and brokenness of this world needs to be brought to justice now!

And the Psalmist declares: “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.”

The gods are on trial. They finally have their day in court.

And, with Job and the rest of the world we cry: “Well, it is about time!”

But who are these gods?

Other “gods” are mentioned throughout the Bible, and Psalm 82 is not the only Psalm to mention other gods: “There is none like you among the gods, O Lord” (86:8); “For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods” (96:4); “Our Lord is above all gods” (135:5); “Ascribe to Yahweh, gods, ascribe to Yahweh glory and strength” (29:1); “He is exalted above all gods” (97:7); “For Yahweh is a great god, and a great king above all gods” (95:3).

Idolatry is considered to be the greatest of all sins. The first of the Ten Commandments is: “Thou shall have no other gods before me.”

But again, who are these gods? Who is guilty of injustice toward the weak and the orphan and who shows partiality to the wicked? What god refuses to maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute? What gods fail to rescue the weak and the needy and deliver them from the hand of the wicked?

A couple of weeks ago, we read where Jesus criticized would-be followers for placing people above his call to discipleship.

One man wanted to bury his father. Another wanted to say goodbye to his family. Jesus’ response, albeit harsh sounding, reminds us that we are oftentimes guilty of putting people ahead of our call to be followers of Jesus.

So you could say that any person that we put above God can be considered to be a god.

A week ago, we read where Jesus sent seventy disciples out on a mission trip with the instructions to travel light, to leave some things behind, reminding us that we are also guilty of placing thingsahead of our call to be followers of Jesus.

The truth is that anyone or anything that competes for our allegiance to the God that is revealed in the Scriptures and in the words and works of Jesus is false god.

Prophetic preacher and one of my favorite writers John Pavlovitz is right when he says:

Idolatry is a horrible, dangerous thing. [And] sadly, far too many Christians are so very guilty of it.[i]

There are many things and many people we put above God: Our family; Our race; our nationality; our way of life; our religion. But there may be one god that we put above all other gods. There may be one god thatshows the most partiality to the wicked and refuses justice to the weak and the orphan, that tramples on the rights of the lowly and destitute.

Pavlovitz names Fear as the god of many people today, including some in the church. He writes:

Fear has become their false god, one they worship with complete and undying devotion.You can see it in the way they complain on social media, in the way they comment on the news of the day; in the defeatist, alarmist language that they use as to describe the world.

When Fear is your God, “everything becomes an imminent threat:” asylum-seekers, Muslims, atheists and agnostics, the media, Hollywood, and anyone that doesn’t pray like you, vote like you, speak like you and love like you.”

When Fear is your God, you cling to every little bit of worldly power that you can, whether or not you agree with the morality or ethics of that power.

When Fear is your god, you worship anything that prevents you from worshipping the God who loves all people of all nations, all races and all languages.

Last Sunday, I believe you could see it in the extravagant patriotic worship services in many large evangelical churches throughout our country, but especially in the South. In some worship services last Sunday, it was not certain to whom the worshiper’s allegiance was pledged: To a nation? Or to the God to whom all the nations belong?

When Fear is your god, patriotism turns into nationalism which quickly becomes idolatry.

When Fear is your god, you turn all of your attention to the things in  

When Fear is your god, you develop a “me-and-people-like-me-first” position, and your heart becomes callous to the suffering of anyone who is different.

When Fear is your god, you can’t afford to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and care for the sick.

When Fear is your god, it is too risky to welcome the stranger and visit the imprisoned.

When Fear is your god, life is about self-preservation, self-protection, and it becomes unashamedly self-serving.

When Fear is your god, dying to self is unimaginable, loving others as yourself sounds ridiculous, and carrying a cross, well, that is just foolishness.

The truth is that if Fear is the god of enough people, the entire creation suffers. We all walk in darkness, and the very foundations of the earth are shaken (Psalm 82:5).

The good news is that the gods are on trial, declares the Psalmist, and here comes the judge! The God of all nations, the Holy One who spoke the world into being and walked on the seas and healed the sick and raised the dead is having a reckoning!

The false gods are being put in their place! And it is way past time!

For when we put the true God, the God of the Holy Scriptures who we know most fully in the words and works of Jesus, above all other gods, much of the problems that our world faces today, some of the very same problems that Job observed in his world, will not only be addressed, but many of them can be solved.

Paraphrasing

I love the closing prayer of the vigil that we had Friday night for those suffering at the border. It was a pledge to the true God:

I will not fear people who don’t look like me, vote like me, worship like me, speak like me, or love like me. We are all God’s children.

I will not fear immigrants, dissenters, or troublemakers.

My country was built by immigrants, dissenters, and troublemakers.

I will not fear the false prophets who spread fear to make me hate. They are weak. They do not speak for me.

Let us stand, let us speak, and let us be heard.

Because our God has put the gods of the world on trial. Judgment has been rendered. Fear has been convicted and cast down and out by Love. And the verdict is in: Love always wins, and it will never be silenced or ever fade away.

May we share it boldly and loudly in such a way that the entire world will cheer: “It’s about time!”

 

[i]https://johnpavlovitz.com/2015/01/15/the-greatest-false-idol-of-modern-christianity/

Seventy Disciples

Mission Possible

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 NRSV

For several years now First Christian Church in Fort Smith has adopted a little slogan that we have used to identify us as a congregation: Mission Possible. You’ve seen it on t-shirts, on our Facebook page, and on our Narrative Budget that shares our mission with others.

The slogan has more meaning for me this week in light of today’s gospel lesson.

Mission Possible has been on my mind, because, as preaching professor Karoline Lewis has pointed out, Jesus’ instructions to the seventy before they venture out on their mission sound more like orders received from central command in the series “Mission Impossible.”

“Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road—Carry no provisions. Not even a decent pair of walking shoes. Danger abounds, and by all means, don’t stop and ask for directions!”[i]

And guess what? Although you are going in peace, announcing the Kingdom of God is here, not everyone is going to accept your peace or be happy with what the Kingdom of God being near entails!

Now, how many of us are ready to sign up for that mission trip? It sounds absolutely dreadful.

Yet… here we are.

On this weekend after the Fourth of July, there’s not many of us, but there’s at least, what would you say, 70?

A good 70, I’ll say; which, interestingly enough, just so happens to be the average worship attendance in mainline churches these days.

Here we are. And curiously, the mission to which we have committed ourselves through this particular church is no less daunting, dangerous, and dreadful today than the mission of these 70 Jesus sends out.

Like Jesus’ 70, we have inherited an Abrahamic faith that began when Abraham extended generous hospitality to complete strangers who just so happened to be messengers from God.

Sadly, in our current culture, sharing this hospitable faith, or even standing up for this faith is very unpopular.

Deuteronomy might say:

 You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:19).

But our culture says, “Some strangers are animals, not people.”

Leviticus might say:

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 19:34).

But our culture says: “We should only love and welcome aliens based on their merit which we will determine through a strict vetting process.”

Mosaic Law may warn:

Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow (Leviticus 27:19).

And the Psalmist may warn:

The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin (Psalm 146:9).

But today’s culture says: “If foreigners and strangers are unhappy with the conditions of our detentions centers, just tell them not to come. All problems solved.”

The prophets may declare:

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then [the true God] will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever (Jeremiah 7:5-7).

But our religious culture says, “The God you talk about is not the true God, but some imaginary God.”

The prophets may command:

Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another (Zechariah 7:9-10).

But today’s culture argues: “But they might be drug dealers, criminals and rapists.”

So many churches today have said, “Thanks, but no thanks, Moses. Sorry Jeremiah. It’s not happening Zechariah.” What you people of God are talking about, especially in these days, is Mission Impossible.

However, the good news is that this church, the First Christian Church in Fort Smith, says, no, what the holy scriptures command us is actually Mission Possible. But how? How do we do what the Bible tells us to do when we live in a world where we are like lambs living in the midst of wolves?

For the mission we have committed ourselves to seems impossible when we consider that not only are we a church with Abrahamic roots that has been called to stand up for the foreigners coming into our land, we are a group of people who claim to be followers of Jesus, who we believe Jesus is the Christ, the way, the truth and the life. Consequently, we are a church on a mission to embrace the way of Jesus, and to call on all people, all nations, including our own nation, to embrace the same way.

On this first Sunday after the day we celebrate our nation’s birth, we implore our leaders:

  • To lose their way of greed and materialism, to follow Jesus’ way of generosity
  • To lose their way of dishonesty and deceit, to follow Jesus’ way of truth
  • To lose their way of militarism and perpetual war, to follow Jesus’ way of peace
  • To lose their way of violence and domination, to follow Jesus’ way of servanthood
  • To lose their way of putting themselves first, to follow Jesus’ way that started with: “For God so loved the world.”
  • To lose their way of bigotry, to follow Jesus’ way of valuing every human as one made in the image of God
  • To lose their way of harming children, to follow Jesus’ way of treating children as the greatest among us
  • To lose their way of suppressing the rights of women, to follow Jesus’ way of empowering women
  • To lose their way of abandoning the needs of the sick, the hungry, the foreigner and the imprisoned, to follow Jesus’ way of loving them as their very selves

And here is perhaps what makes our church’s mission seem even more impossible these days:

Not only are we a church with Abrahamic roots, and not only are we committed to following the compassionate and just way of Jesus, we are a church born out of the Stone-Campbell movement. That means, that like our foundersBarton Stone and Thomas and Alexander Campbell, we have made a commitment to be on a mission to follow the inclusive way Jesus, even if it causes us to lose some friends!

We have made the decision to welcome all people to Lord’s table as God has welcomed us—graciously, generously, lovingly, unconditionally. And we do this in a culture where such welcome is socially unacceptable.

We have committed ourselves to let the first word that anyone hears from our mouths be “Peace.”  And we do this in a culture where the very first words that many hear from churches are words that denote the exact opposite of peace—Words of judgment and condemnation; words judging others as not only sinners, but as “abominations.” In the name of God, they justify their hate with the same type of Christ-less scriptural interpretation that has been used to support sexism, slavery and racial discrimination since our country’s founding.

So, how do we do it? How do we transform a Mission Impossibleinto a Mission Possible? How is that our slogan?

I believe the answer is in the obvious but oftentimes overlooked detail in our gospel lesson this morning. The answer is the number 70.

The good news is that we are not on a mission to be open and affirming in a culture that is closed and condemning alone. Each one of us has at least, at least, 69 fellow disciples, 69 friends in the faith, on whom to depend. Seventy people may look small in this sanctuary that seats 400, but 70 is a lot of bodies, a lot of somebodies, a lot of disciples on which to count when the going gets rough.

Jesus did not expect any of his disciples to be alone on the difficult mission to which he was sending them. And neither does God expect us to be alone to do our seemingly impossible work.

Right now, I want you to take a moment and look around you. For what you see… no… whoyou see, is all you need to do the work Jesus is calling you to do in a world where danger and injustice abound.

You need no purse, no bag, no sandals; and not even the ones you may meet on the road. All that is necessary to carry out our mission, to transform Mission Impossible into Mission Possibleare scattered about in these pews.

And I have a feeling that is why you are here this morning. You are here, because here, in this place, is your group of seventy. You come to be reminded that you are not in this alone. You come here acknowledging that if we are ever going to be the people God is calling us to be, we need one another.

Even before moving here two years ago to serve with you as your pastor, the Mission Possible slogan caught my eye.

For it is a slogan with optimism and assurance, potential and promise, success and victory.

With God, anything is possible! Right?

With God, it will be possible for me to declare that the Kingdom of God is coming near to the River Valley.

With God, it will be possible for me to announce to Fort Smith, Van Buren, Barling, Greenwood, Roland and Spiro: “Peace!”

With God, it will be possible for me to speak up and speak out, and the demons will submit!

Well, not exactly. With God, and about 70 others!

Today, I am grateful that I found a group of 70, well, at least 70, sometimes 120-140, and more than that on Easter and Christmas Eve, whatever the number, I have found a lot of good somebodies with whom to go out and follow Jesus wherever he leads.

And together, although we seem small, and our provisions are limited, with God, we can do some big things to bring the Kingdom of God near!

Let us pray together.

Gracious God, emboldened by being apart of our 70, may our spirits be filled with joy and enthusiasm by following the way of Abraham, Moses, the prophets and Jesus, sharing your redeeming love with all people. AMEN.

[i]http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4683

Losing Our Way

flag

Someone recently accused me of “losing my way.” This was an obvious response to my supportive posts on social media of the LGBTQ+ community and to my leading our church to venture out beyond its building to sing hymns at a local brewery.

Here is my reply to this accusation:

“Thank you! Losing my way has been long and difficult, but I continue to work on it!”

Shouldn’t that be our life-long commitment as followers of Jesus? To lose our way to follow Jesus’ way.

  • We are losing our way of fearing the stranger, to follow Jesus’ way of welcome and inclusion
  • We are losing our way of pushing those who are different to the margins, to follow Jesus’ way of restoring them back into community
  • We are losing our way of focusing inward, to follow Jesus’ way of focusing outward
  • We are losing our way of staying in a place of sanctuary, to follow Jesus’ way of leaving our comfort zones
  • We are losing our way of judgment, to follow Jesus’ way of grace

I have heard many people say that our nation has “lost its way.”

Here is my response to that:

“I only wished it were so.”

But maybe we are working on it.

There have been movements throughout our history that have challenged our country to lose its way “in order to form a more perfect union.” These include the Abolitionist Movement, the Women’s Suffrage Movement, the Labor Movement, the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-War Movement. The good news is that there many Christian movements afoot today. And like our past movements, they are challenging our country to lose its way to follow the way of Jesus.

  • To lose its way of greed and materialism, to follow Jesus’ way of generosity
  • To lose its way of dishonesty and deceit, to follow Jesus’ way of truth
  • To lose its way of violence and domination, to follow Jesus’ way of servanthood
  • To lose its way of militarism and perpetual war, to follow Jesus’ way of peace
  • To lose its way of putting itself first, to follow Jesus’ way that began with “For God so loved the world”
  • To lose its way of bigotry, to follow Jesus’ way of valuing every human as one made in the image of God
  • To lose its way of harming children, to follow Jesus’ way of treating children as the greatest among us
  • To lose its way of suppressing the rights of women, to follow Jesus’ way of empowering women
  • To lose its way of abandoning the needs of the sick, the hungry, the foreigner and the imprisoned, to follow Jesus’ way of loving them as our very selves
  • To lose its way of inequality, to finally follow Jesus’ way of liberty and justice for all

May the followers of Jesus continue to proclaim the way of Jesus to our nation, so one day, the whole world will make the accusation: “America has lost its way.”

And we can reply:

“Thank you! Losing our way has been long and difficult, but we continue to work on it!”

No Time to Waste

 

jesus_facepalm

Luke 9:51-62 NRSV

When it comes to writing a sermon, I don’t know which is more difficult: Trying to figure out from the biblical text a message from Jesus for us today, or trying to figure out how to relay that message without being forced to leave town.

And in the case of our gospel lesson this morning, how to relay the message from Jesus without sounding like a complete jerk.

Jesus’ face is set toward Jerusalem. He is on a mission following a selfless, self-expending, sacrificial way of love and grace. And in following this narrow and difficult way, he seems to be rather exasperated by the lack of support and understanding around him. So much so, that I almost titled this sermon: “Grumpy Jesus.”

Jesus’ journey towards Jerusalem doesn’t to get off on the right foot, as he receives word that there no hospitality awaiting him in the village of the Samaritans. No room for him in the inn, or this time, even in a stable. This is not surprising considering the Samaritans and Jews mutual animosity; yet knowing Jesus’ love that has no borders, Jesus is obviously frustrated here. But perhaps he is more frustrated by his disciples’ response.

James and John, bless their hearts, ask Jesus if he wants them to reenact a scene from 2 Kings by asking God to rain down fire from heaven and wipe out the entire Samaritan village!

Really? Have they been listening to anything that Jesus, the “Peace-Be-with-You-Love-Your-Enemies” Rabbi, has been teaching them?

Rick Morley, an Episcopal Priest from New Jersey, says that this is like “one of those moments at Thanksgiving when your crazy uncle says something so ridiculously inappropriate that everyone just turns and stares with their mouths agape.”

After James and John’s outrageous question, he imagines Jesus doing one of these (face palm).

Of course, Love-Incarnate, the Prince of Peace, immediately rebukes them and their idiocy!

Then, we have a series of three encounters of would-be disciples. Interestingly enough, especially in light of what the disciples just said, the three encounters may remind us of the three passed by a man in the ditch in what we call the parable of the Good Samaritan in which Jesus lifts up a Samaritan as an example for all of us.

The first would-be disciple comes, and without Jesus asking him, presents himself as the perfect candidate: “I will follow you wherever you go!”

Now, what is not to like about that! I know I am never turning anyone away who comes forward during the hymn of commitment saying, “I want to follow Jesus wherever he goes!” I am signing that person up immediatly! No more questions need to be asked!

Yet, Jesus, perhaps still exasperated because he had no place to spend the night in that Samaritan village, and by his disciples’ failure to get anything he has been teaching, says: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” “Okaaaay, Jesus. I will check back with you when you have had your coffee!”

Jesus then encounters another and invites him to follow him. He agrees to follow, but then asks permission to go and bury his father first. A very reasonable, loving, even faithful request. It was his part of fulfilling God’s law to “honor your father and mother.”

Then, if you thought the “Foxes have holes and birds of nests” comment was snarky, Jesus: “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.”

Now, he is really sounding grumpy.

C’mon Jesus. I know you are upset that you have no where to lay your head. I know no one in that Samaritan village welcomed you into their home. I know your disciples are idiots. They are incredibly irritating, to say the least. I know that when it comes to embracing your way of love and grace, they don’t have a clue. But the poor man just wants to bury his father! What can be wrong with that? Isn’t honoring our parents part of discipleship? Isn’t taking some time to grieve over the loss of a loved one something God would want us to do?

Then, Jesus encounters the third would-be follower, who like the first one, also volunteers without being asked. But first he wants to go and say good-bye to his family, perhaps to let his children know why Daddy wouldn’t be home for a while. Again, sounds like a reasonable request. Even Elijah allowed Elisha to say good-bye to his parents when Elijah chose Elisha to be his disciple while he was plowing his field (1 Kings 19:19-21).

But grumpy Jesus is not having it. Echoing the calling of Elisha, he says, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”

Look Jesus. I know you are upset. I know you’re tired. I remember that just last week you were trying to sleep on that boat only to be awakened by a storm. And as soon as you stepped out on the land you were confronted by a man possessed by demons. Then, although you were exhausted, you healed him only to be unappreciated and run out of town! Jesus, I know you have no where to lay your head. I know you are frustrated. I know the disciples that you have been training to be compassionate, loving, forgiving and peaceful want to rain down fire and take out an entire village. I know you have your face set on Jerusalem and all the suffering that is to come. But come on, Jesus, take it easy. Let this man say good-bye to his family. And for God’s sake, let this one bury his father!

This is what I feel like saying. But this is Jesus. This is the eternal Word made flesh. This is the Son of God. Thus, my faith tells me that there has to be something more going on here—something more than a little fatigue, frustration and fear.

His face is set toward Jerusalem. This infers that he knows the that his time on earth is very short. And he knows that if he is going to usher in the Kingdom of God before he dies, as master preacher Karoline Lewis has said: “there is not a moment to lose.”[i]

The same is true for us. The reality is, our time here is also very short. And if we want to make a difference for the Kingdom of God while we are here, there is no time to waste.

But maybe this appearance of grumpiness is not about Jesus at all. For what we know about Jesus, he was always teaching by word and by example to deny self and to lose self. So, perhaps Jesus is not thinking about his own circumstance at all.

Perhaps he had in mind other circumstances and people who needed to know and to experience the love of God. Not next week, not tomorrow, not even later that afternoon, but at that very moment. Perhaps Jesus knew that, not for him, but for others, for many, there was not a moment to lose. Every second counted, every minute mattered.

So, this appearance of grumpiness is actually a holy urgency, a sacred stress if you will, fueled by a divine love with a height, a depth, a width and a breadth that we can only begin to understand. Perhaps Jesus knew that for God’s kingdom to come to those who need it the most, there is not a moment to lose.

Jesus knew that for those who need God’s love, for those who need compassion, healing, forgiveness, and restoration, there is no time to waste.

There is not a moment to lose –

For those who are poor, for those who hunger, for those who weep, for those who are hated, insulted, excluded and rejected (Luke 6:20-22).

There is not a moment to lose –

For those Samaritans who believe they have lost favor with God (Luke 10:25-29);

For a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years (Luke 13:10-17);

For a man who had been suffering with dropsy. Jesus healed him on the Sabbath in the presence of the Pharisees (he didn’t wait until the next day when it was lawful), proving, there is not a moment to lose (Luke 14:1-4).

There is not a moment to lose –

For the rich man who thought he was blessed because he was rich. For the poor man who thought he was cursed because he was poor (Luke 16:19-31);

For the ten lepers who approached Jesus in a region between Galilee and Samaria (Luke 17:11-19);

For the blind beggar sitting beside the roadside near Jericho (Luke 18:35-43).

There is not a moment to lose –

For a man named Zacchaeus who defrauded the poor;

For all of the poor people he defrauded (Luke 19:1-10);

Jesus is frustrated, because there is not a moment to lose –

For an entire world that feels rejected, cursed and lost;

For children of asylum-seekers separated from their parents;

For asylum-seekers drowning in rivers and thirsting in deserts;

For children confined in for-profit, inhumane detention centers.

Jesus is exasperated, because there is not a moment to lose –

For LGBT teens who are contemplating suicide;

For all children who suffer from neglect and abuse;

For girls who are raped and then denied healthcare;

For boys who are taught that it is okay to objectify girls;

For the person with a disability who feels like the whole world, even God, is against them.

Jesus is stressed, because there is not a moment to lose –

For the one dying in a nursing home all alone;

For those who have to make the choice every week to either buy their medication or to buy groceries;

For those unjustly locked away in our prisons because of their economic status or skin color;

For nations on the brink of war.

Jesus is grumpy, because there is not a moment to lose –

To respond to climate change that threatens God’s good earth;

To end the destructive pollution of the planet with plastics and carbon.

And Jesus has his palm planted on his face today, because many of his disciples still don’t have a clue. Some still want God to rain down fire and brimstone on those who believe and live differently. And many would-be-followers still have no sense of urgency to be witnesses of love, peace and justice.

In a sermon, Raquel Lettsome, an AME preacher from New York points out:

We tend to wait for God’s action [or somebody else’s action] rather than getting our [own] feet wet.

Are you at the Red Sea, waiting for God to do something? Or are you at the Jordan River, willing to get your feet wet so as to enter into the promised land?

Are you waiting for someone else to speak justice? To call for righteousness? Or will you embrace the moment and proclaim the promise of God’s favor?

Are you waiting for others to stand up for those our world rejects and reviles? Or will you seize the moment and say God’s love is for all?

Whatever we do, may we know that every moment counts. Every minute matters. There is no time to waste.

Let us pray.

Create in us a new heart of compassion, a new sense of urgency, as Christ has called us to be servants of love and grace in this very moment. Enable us to truly be your disciples, O Christ. AMEN.

Invitation to the Table

The needs of our world are so great, that Jesus needs all of us. That is why all are welcomed to be served and to serve from this table sharing the love and grace of God with all.

Commissioning and Benediction

Go ahead and get grumpy.

Feel frustration.

Experience exasperation.

Sense some sacred stress.

Because there is a suffering world out there that needs the Jesus that you follow,

the Jesus that is in you and the Jesus who wants to speak and work through you.

And there is not a moment to lose.

 

[i]https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4679

 

Gratitude Is Enough: Remembering Daniel Wald

Dan Wald

As a pastor, I have observed that there are basically two types of people in this world. I am aware this is terrible over-simplification, but I believe there is some truth in it nonetheless.

There are those who get it, and those do don’t. There are people in this world who get it, I mean, they really get it. And it is obvious to everyone, in everything that they do, how they live, how they work and how they love, that they got it. And then there are those who do not a have a clue, and it is just as obvious.

There are those who get that all of life is grace. And there are those who don’t get it.

There are those who truly understand that life, this beautiful world, is but a free, unearned, undeserved gift of God’s amazing grace, and there are those who act as if God and the world owe them something.

Dan Wald got it. He really got it. And it was obvious to everyone.

Meister Eckhart once said: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ it will be enough.”

Sadly, there are many people who go through their entire life without expressing in word or deed any real sense of gratitude. There are some who might pray for an hour on Sunday morning in church, and then there are those like Dan who live a life of prayer, who heed the words of the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing and to give thanks in every circumstance, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” And to the Ephesians: “always give thanks to God for everything.” And to the Colossians: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father.”

Dan got this. And because he got it, his family, his friends and this city are better for it. Here are seven observations that I believe indicate that Dan’s perpetual prayer was, “Thank you.”

  • Gratitude instills a sense of personal responsibility.

With any gift comes responsibility. When I asked Evelyn, Ashley, Ryan, Courtney and Stephany: “When you remember your father and your husband, what is the one thing for which you are the most grateful?” They said they were most grateful for the way he taught them with his words and deeds personal responsibility. This is not surprising, because when one truly gets that all of life is a gift of grace, that they did nothing to earn their lives, did nothing to deserve to be born, I believe one tends to value life more appreciate it more, and to do whatever they can to make the most out of it, to be responsible with it, and to teach others to do the same.

  • Gratitude instills a staunch work ethic.

Dan was fond of saying: “You don’t have to go to work. You get to go to work!”

People who fail to comprehend the grace of it all, that all is gift, often act as if the world or someone owes them something. So they go through life with a sense of entitlement. On the other hand, someone who gets the grace of it all, that all is gift, unearned and underserved, go through life possessing such a debt of gratitude that they are more than willing to work hard and give back whenever and however they can.

  • Gratitude instills a profound curiosity.

When one is grateful for this mysterious gift we call life, one has such an appreciation for the world that they want to discover as much as they possibly can. They continually desire to gather more information, to study new ideas and to gravitate to new experiences.

This is perhaps why Dan taught himself to be a master multi-tasker. Dan could carry on a conversation with you, and you would never know that through his Bluetooth earbud he was also listening to a news report or a debate on talk radio or a ball game on the sports channel. He was always reading, forever learning, constantly figuring things out.

No one is surprised to learn that he owned one of the earliest computers. He calculated and figured on that thing, while watching a Razorback baseball game, at the same time listening to his weather radio and a Patsy Cline album all the while he conversed with Evelyn about what happened at the store that day.

His children thought he was crazy twenty years ago when he said told them said: “In twenty years we are all going to be carrying TVs in our pockets! And it will also be your phone, camera and computer!

Whatever needed to be fixed, Dan learned how to fix it. Dan was a self-made maker. He taught himself how to make or build anything from a Razorback rocking horse (I guess that is called a “rocking hog” though, wooden puzzles and all kinds of toys for his kids and grandchildren, to furniture, to even a house.

Because of his appreciation for life, because his desire to learn so great, his main concern the last time he was discharged from the hospital a couple of weeks ago was not so much about the possibility of having another stroke, but whether or not he was going to get home in time to watch Jeopardy!

  • Gratitude instills kindness towards others

When one is grateful, when one knows they did not earn or deserve to be born, especially healthy and whole into a good family, one is especially considerate of those who are less fortunate. When he was younger, he had a friend who only had one hand, but who liked to shoot pool. So, to play fair, Dan taught himself to shoot pool with one hand.

When playing games with his children, he would always play with one hand or left-handed to even the playing field. I am not sure what he did, if anything, to even the field though with Dominoes or Chess.

This kindness he exhibited toward others made Dan a good listener, never quick to speak, always choosing his words carefully before speaking. He was respectful to all, to all creeds, all beliefs, all faiths, “to each his own,” he liked to say.

  • Gratitude instills a love for life itself

Frederick Buechner has written: “if you really keep your eyes peeled to it and your ears open, if you really pay attention to it, even in the most limited situations, God through life itself has something to teach you.”  “Taking your children to school.  Kissing your wife goodbye.  Eating lunch with a friend.  Trying to do a decent day’s work.  Hearing the rain patter against the window. There is no event so commonplace that God is not present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly.”

“If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say as a novelist and a preacher it would be something like this:  Listen to your life.  See it for the fathomless mystery that it is.  In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis, all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

I believe this is exactly how Dan regarded his life. To Dan, vanilla soft-served ice cream on a cruise ship was divine. Blue Bell Moo Bars were holy. Evelyn said if she caught him eating more than one and ask, “Dan, how many are you going to eat?” He would reply: “As many as I want.”

Sweet tea, fresh sweet tea, in a paper cup, not plastic, was sacred. It’s all grace. Snow skiing, water skiing, scuba-diving, white water kayaking, bowling, classic country music, Ribs, brisket or pork in a smoker, sharing it his family—heavenly. Cooking enough for the neighbors— sanctified.

  • Gratitude instills a love beyond self

After Joseph, his father, passed away in early 1997, Danny, keeping a promise he had made earlier to him, was selflessly committed to LaRue, his mother. When she had to stop driving in 2010, Danny would get her ever morning to take her to work. They would often go to lunch together. When her health began to worsen, and she had a difficult time supporting herself and walking, knowing that work was her life and she would be miserable at home, when Danny would walk with her into the shop, he would often carry her purse as she used a walker.

One day, Danny’s sister LaBeth took their mom shopping in NW Arkansas where she fell in love this orange purse. LaRue wanted to get it but she said, “I don’t know what Danny is going to think about having to carrying this orange purse for me!” Of course, Danny was honored to carry it.

Family always came first. Throughout his life, Dan continually put the needs of his family ahead of his own. As a Scout leader with Ryan from Tiger Cubs, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts all the way until he made Eagle Scout and then continuing for some time afterwards, Dan was always there teaching his children sacred values while teaching countless young men appreciation for God’s creation.

Evelyn called him a “Mr. Mom.” For when she worked as a nurse, he was happy as he could be to get the kids dressed, ready and to school. And he always made sure they had a hearty breakfast as they would always stop by Hardee’s or the doughnut shop along the way.  Evelyn said that Dan never complained tying the girls’ ties and ponytails.

Even during his recent hospital stay, he was thinking about his children and grandchildren, concerned about them driving home, checking the APP on his phone to determine if they made it home safely, wondering if the grandkids were getting their ice cream.

  • Gratitude instills a peace beyond understanding

When one understands that all of life is gift, one has nothing to complain about, nothing to be bitter, angry or resentful about. Even as a young 50-year old, diagnosed with multiple myeloma, Dan remained positive. Having to relocate to Little Rock for treatments everyday for 6 weeks, go through a stem cell transplant, chemotherapy, and the loss of hair, whatever trial Dan experienced, Dan remained hopeful and upbeat. He continued living, continued enjoying life, continued inhaling the grace of it all, scuba diving in Aruba, St. Thomas, and the Keys. And in 2008, he beat it that cancer.

And it seems to me that this was his same attitude during each recent stroke, calm, cool, collected and steadily positive. Without a hint of complaining in his voice, but with almost an excitement: “I am getting a little feeling back in my leg! Let’s do some rehab!”

There was never any complaining, no “woe is me.” No pity party.

Although we are not able to ask him how he remained so positive right up to the end, I believe he would respond with something like, “You know, I didn’t do anything to earn 64 minutes in this world, but I got 64 years. I have nothing to complain about.”

And, the good news is I believe Dan has taught all of us how to deal with our grief today.

Instead of complaining and being bitter over the years disease took from our father, grandfather, brother, husband and friend, Dan taught us to be grateful for every sacred minute we had with him. For each moment was underserved and unearned.

Thus, in what may seem very strange at first, each time the waves of grief come, we can stop and thank God for our grief. For grieving only means that we have lost someone wonderful—someone we did not deserve to have, a free gift of God’s amazing grace: “Thank you God, Daddy, for Danny, for Dan Wald.

And the good news is, even when the shadows of grief overwhelm us, saying that little prayer, “Thank You” will somehow, some miraculous way, be enough. Amen.