Emmanuel Changes Us

Isaiah 9:2-7

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
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,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

These are familiar words that we often here at a Christmas service.  These are some of my favorite words of the Bible.  You see, we all have walked in deep darkness, the color of ink, and we have felt the light of Christ pierce that darkness.  Our darkness.  The world’s darkness.  An in-breaking of the kingdom of God in the form of the most vulnerable thing on Earth, a baby, who came to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set us free of our societal, communal, and personal bondage.  As it is written in Isaiah 9:2, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.”

The Gospel of John talks about this Incarnate Light.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

This is God’s Incarnate Light and it’s available for each of us.  No one is separated from the love of God, and Bobbi’s right, it’s a “long-haul love.”  We love even when it’s difficult, even when it’s costly, even when hatred is spewed and it sadly has become the norm.  We’re called to be the light of Christ and, as Robert Louis Stevenson says, “to punch holes in the darkness.”

Later on in John 1, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” That brings us to our second scripture this morning from Matthew 1:22-23, “22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

As we’ve gotten ready for the coming of God in the form of a baby—a God who dwells among us and with us.  We also get ready for the second coming of our savior—a time when there is good news and great joy for ALL people.  This is good news not just for the pretty ones or smart ones or the ones lucky enough to be born on the right side of the tracks or in the wealthy country, but for all of God’s children.

I think of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the wisemen, the angels – a mix of folks.  I think of the words of the prophet—to look to the star and that there is One who is coming who is beyond our imagining.  This story is not just one of familiar and beautiful manger scenes and it’s certainly not just a good children’s story.  These were trying times, much like today, and not even the innocent were safe, as children began to lose their lives as Herod began his search for the Christ child.

The context was not much better than the Hunger Games when Jesus arrived.  Suzanne Collins does an amazing job bringing this post-apocalyptic world to life.  She got the idea from flipping through channels on her television and seeing on one channel a reality tv competition and on the next channel war footage.  In Bethlehem they were under Roman occupation, not knowing what was going to be demanded of them next—their money, their children, their lives.  For some of us, we relate to some of these horrors.  There are hard things that we see every day whether it be children going without food or the loss of a friend or loved one or the loss of one’s job or home or when we watch the news and see the latest terrorist attacks or the horrific images of Aleppo.  Perhaps the most subversive and daring thing as we watch these images is still believe in the hope of Christmas.  Even when the night seems darkest, even when all seems lost; there’s hope in this beautiful child setting the world upside down and bringing God’s kingdom to earth.

We take comfort in what we are told very clearly, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that shall be for all people.  For unto you is born this day a savior who is Christ the Lord and has name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace…”  This Prince of Peace can give us that peace that transcends all understanding whether it be as we are awaiting medical results, college acceptances, grieving lost loved ones, wondering how we will pay the bills, job changes, life decisions, no matter what.

This kind of peace can transform the world.  Nelson Mandela, said “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”  We give others the courage to do the same.  Not just people in this place, in this community, or in this land—but all the world.  It doesn’t end in Advent.  I want us to choose joy. Share hope. Live peace. Be love. We celebrate the coming of the baby, may we not be scared to follow the way of the man.

My hope over the next few days is we will take time, breathe and take in what it means to be a people who believe in this Emmanuel, a people who believe and live out this peace.  As Frederick Buechner writes, “”If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party. The world says, Mind your own business, and Jesus says, There is no such thing as your own business. The world says, Follow the wisest course and be a success, and Jesus says, Follow me and be crucified. The world says, Drive carefully—the life you save may be your own—and Jesus says, Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. The world says, Law and order, and Jesus says, Love. The world says, Get and Jesus says, Give. In terms of the world’s sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under a delusion.”

You know we can’t do any of this on our own, but through Christ’s power within us, we can do all things.  One of the verses to Go Tell it On the Mountain, is “When I was a seeker/ I sought both night and day/ I asked the Lord to help me/ And he showed me the way. Don’t forget that you’re human.  It’s okay to have a melt down and not do everything perfectly.  Just don’t unpack and live there.  Cry it out and then refocus on where God is leading you.  Because the world needs you.  Jesus will show you every step of the way.  He will light your path.  The world needs the light of Jesus reflecting in us, light punching the darkness, light brought down to earth.  The world needs you to show up – in person – just like Christ did that first Christmas.  It’s radical incarnational love.  Love came down on Christmas.  Amen.

 

 

Mary’s Magnificat

Are you tired of the 24 hour news cycle or do you stayed glued to CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC?  Do you read your news online?  It’s can make you depressed because inevitably they cover more tragedy than celebration.  I’ve had journalists tell me what I already know, most people prefer the bad news.  It’s like schadenfreude.  Our fascination with others misfortune.  How many times have you been stuck in traffic on an interstate for an accident with the accident on the other side of the road?  We have rubber neck syndrome.  We want to be in the know.  If we’re praying people than we know how to pray for the world, our nation, our community from news sources.  Do we live in our own personal bubbles or are we in the world, but not of it – speaking prophetically, praying intercessory prayers, being informed so we can stand against tyranny on the side of the poor and oppressed.

People often say to veteran broadcaster, Paul Harvey, “Paul, why don’t journalists and broadcasters emphasize more good news instead of tragedy, destruction, discord and dissent?” Harvey’s own network once tried broadcasting a program devoted solely to good news. The program survived 13 weeks. We say we want good news, but we won’t buy it. In Sacramento, California, a tabloid called Good News Paper printed nothing else. It lasted 36 months before it went bankrupt. A similar Indiana tabloid fared even worse — the publishers had to GIVE IT AWAY. Evidently, the positive news people say they want is news they just won’t buy.  The tabloids full of scandals or In Touch or US sale off the shelves.

Listen to any broadcast, Paul Harvey suggests, or pick up any newspaper. You’ll learn that records are crashing, it is the worst wind or the worst fire or flood or earthquake or whatever — because NOISE makes news. For example,

* On August 31, 1997, Chicago Tribune sales soared 40 percent due to coverage of a crash that killed a princess.

* The very next issue of People made it the lead story and sold more than a million copies.

* Newsweek and Time broke sales records when they did the same in the following weeks.

* For an entire month after the crash, Britain’s biggest newspapers gave 35 percent of their total news coverage to the death of Princess Di. Not even the end of World War II got that much ink.

I actually stayed up with friends to watch Princess Diana’s funeral and when Mother Teresa died a few months later, she didn’t get near the publicity.  As Harvey suggests, noise makes news — and one gunshot makes more noise than a thousand prayers. That doesn’t mean it is more important — just that it sells more newspapers. The heads of all the major television networks understand this basic fact, and they make sure that news broadcasts are full of noise. 

That’s why the weather report does not stop with simply announcing that today’s winter temperature fell to 0 degrees. How boring is that?! No, the forecaster goes on to say that the “chill factor” is 40 degrees below! That’s news!

Here, then, is the question du jour: Could the same be true of our lack of enthusiasm for the Christmas story? Let’s face it: Good news can be boring. God is love. Mary is his favored one. Joseph is a righteous man. Jesus is such a sweet little baby. We’ve heard the story so often, and we’ve seen the pageant so many times. It just doesn’t get the adrenaline flowing any more. 

But hold on: There’s a surprise to be found in today’s Scripture, the “Magnificat” from the first chapter of Luke. This passage is an explosion of free verse by Mary — a young woman who could have thought she was getting some bad news when the angel arrived.  I asked the children’s Sunday School last week, what angels look like because anytime they appear, they immediately say, “Do not be afraid.” Gabriel’s announcement to Mary was a mixed bag of good news and bad news.  When she heard Elizabeth’s proclamation, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  When she realized how truly awesome Gabriel’s message was, she began to make some soulful noise, and that’s where the Magnificat comes in.  She does her part to make sure it sells — she does it by itemizing the noisy good news about her Good News God.

Luke 1:46-55

46 And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’
Is this really “noisy” good news? Yes, it is. We should shout and sing because Mary makes a racket for all of us. There is nothing meek and mild about the song that Mary sings. Check out these headlines:

GOD TAPS NAZARETH NOBODY. “My soul magnifies the Lord,” rejoices  Mary, “and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant” (1:46-48). It is truly surprising and newsworthy that God chose a poor Galilean girl to become the mother of Jesus the Christ and the most significant woman in all of Holy Scripture.

“Mother of God,” “Heavenly nurse,” “Help of the helpless,” and “Dispensatrix of all grace” are just some of her names. She became an unbreakable link between Jewish and Christian history.  Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan sees her as the inspiration for the great abbesses of medieval times — the most powerful women in an age of powerful men — and today as the driving force behind people engaged in struggles for social justice around the world.

Not bad for a nobody from Nazareth. Her selection by God should give hope to any of us who are feeling trapped in our everyday existence.  Feeling like we’re not making much of a difference to anybody.  The great truth of Mary’s story is that God uses the small to lead the big, the weak to teach the strong, and the ordinary to carry out the extraordinary. All we need to do is to remember that it is availability and not ability that is key, and to say, along with Mary, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (1:38).

But there’s more: LORD BUMPS WALL STREET, LIFTS LITTLE GUY. “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,” says the Magnificat, “and lifted up the lowly” (1:52). From tech giants to the world’s biggest oil companies, those who run the economy agree on one thing — bigger is better. But what’s wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with it is that God is working to bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly. God is concerned more about the common good than about corporate greed. “Can anybody seriously suggest that bigger, more powerful, and more profitable corporations will help to protect the interests of workers, consumers, the environment, local communities, and the forgotten poor?” asks Jim Wallis in Sojourners magazine. “Is it right that the casino economy of Wall Street profits when the real economy of workers and their families suffers? Is it fair that the people who do the firing get a raise, while the people fired can only fear for the future of their families?” Christians who follow the Good News God of the “Magnificat” are called to look for the common good for all people.

And here’s some more noisy news: 2000-YEAR-OLD PROMISE KEPT. “He has helped his servant Israel,” Mary notes, “in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever” (1:54-55).

God kept his promises to Israel, from the time of Abraham to the time of Mary, and he keeps his promises today. The greatest sign of his promise-keeping was the birth of his son Jesus Christ: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,” said God through the prophet Isaiah, “and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (11:1-2). He’ll grow up to judge the poor with righteousness and kill the wicked with the breath of his lips. His kingdom will be a peaceful one, marked by righteousness and faithfulness and the knowledge of the Lord.

This is news — news of surprising selections, unexpected elevations and the preservation of ancient promises. It’s noisy news, awesome news, but better yet … it’s Good News. It’s the Good news that God has come to earth in Jesus Christ, to call us to himself and to point us toward his just and everlasting kingdom.

The sermons I’ve been doing for Advent have had a definite apocalyptic or eschatological lean, “Keep Awake,” “Repent for the One is coming”, and this one will is no different.  “Joy WILL come in the morning.”  Many places Mary is depicted as meek and mild-mannered, Saint-like with a golden halo around her head, pondering things in her heart.  To answer Margaret’s song that she sang beautifully, I think Mary DID know.  She knew just like her foremothers knew, Esther, for such a time as this, Ruth, your people will be my people, your God, my God, and now Mary, the peasant girl who utters this powerful prophecy, the first of Luke’s New Testament.  It is powerful.  A total reversal of the world order.  But do we live that?

I was “over hearing” a conversation on facebook between some FSU Wesley students last week.  One was preaching a sermon on Advent that night and asked, “Talk with me about Advent. Is this season purely about remembering the birth of Christ, or is there more to it?  (I have my thoughts, I want to hear yours)”  I had so much fun reading their comments.  Here’s some of them.  “mary’s song and a lot of the old testament passages that prophesy about the coming of Jesus talk about how he will essentially turn society upside down. the lion will lie with the lamb, he’s brought down the powerful from their throne and lifted up the lowly, etc. These texts demonstrate that Jesus is not just coming to save souls but to radically transform how our society functions, for the better of the poor and the oppressed. for me, advent is a time to remember that God came to save everything (individuals, political systems, economies, etc) and to challenge ourselves to put that belief into action.”
“I think Advent represents a thrill of hope for all weary people. The birth of Jesus didn’t necessarily omit weariness from the world, but it gave us the tools to build a table at which we can all share a meal and rest.”

“dude. Honestly if us millennial, Christians could just build enough tables we would convert the world.”

“i’ve been thinking about not ignoring the weary people around me, and how advent makes me want to be human with other humans (“we’re all passengers on the way to the grave” sort of feeling).  Advent makes me want to take my headphones out and sit next to someone at a bus stop (advise, I don’t even ride a bus) and have a small conversation that recognizes our sameness, because we’re all waiting for things to be fully healed, and we’re all headed the same direction.”

“To me, it’s a deeper reflection on the hope that only Christ can give us; that this groaning here on Earth will eventually lead to peace and rest for anyone that puts their hope and trust in Him. And yes, to celebrate and remind us of the magical and yet simple way that he entered our world as a little baby.”

“I just thought of a late night sermon that Jimmy gave when he turned off all the lights in the worship center and preached with a headlamp on. Advent is sitting in the darkness, without being too quick to jump to the light. Like we’ve got a spoiler alert that the light will come, but sometimes we need to acknowledge the realness of the dark.”

Spoiler alert.  The light breaks in through the darkness and great joy comes in the morning.  Hear me now.  The light breaks through in the darkness and JOY comes in the morning.

What are some of our dark places? What are some dark corners of our hearts and of our worlds?

I’ve asked Mike to play the song, “A Baby Will Come.”  It was written by Bill Wolf after he read Mary’s Song in Luke. “As I was researching the social climate of that time and place, I realized just how dire the lives of the Israelites would’ve been. Between the brutal conquests of the Roman Empire under Caesar Augustus and the obscene taxation of Herod, King of Judea…they found themselves enslaved once again, but this time it was in their very own backyard.  The Promised Land no longer felt like the Promised Land.  And into that climate, a young adolescent Jewish girl was visited by an angel of God and told that she would give birth to a baby boy and His name would be “Salvation”; his very name would “Liberation” for her and her people.  In a moment of joy and restraint, Mary sat down and wrote her Magnificat; a poem that is on one hand personal and introspective, but on the other hand, charged with social and political revolutionary language.”

We need to keep awake, be prepared, and trust that joy comes in the morning.  That GOOD will triumph over evil even when all seems lost.

The kings of this world
Have torn it apart
But we can take heart
A baby will come

To the hungry and meek
To those who grieve
To the broken, in need
A baby will come

We have known pain
We’ve felt death’s sting
God, help us believe
This baby will come

The angel appeared
Said do not fear
For peace is here
A baby has come

The advent of life
Let hope arise
We’ve our King and our Christ
The Baby has come

We’ve waited so long
God, for Your mighty arm
May our doubts ever calm
For the Baby has come

The proud will be low
The humble will know
They’re valued and loved
For the Baby has come

Cause the kings of this world
Won’t have the last word
That, God, is Yours
For the Baby has come

A Great Nation

This past March the students and I went on a trip to Washington, D.C. on a seminar by the General Board of Church and Society on Human Trafficking.  There were so many things that struck us at the time, both the things that were disillusioning like walking into the Senate chamber and only 3 Senators being in there and the things that were truly moving like many of the war memorials that we saw.

The thing that was most hard for us to understand was how our houses of Congress work now.  I had never been on a tour of the Capitol building before and it was really neat to see the sculptures and history.  It was really cool going under the ground in the little cars made by Walt Disney.  It was amazing that our Senator’s office squeezed us in under short notice and that we got such a great tour.

It was one of the most disheartening things I’ve seen to witness an empty room with three Senators going back and forth over air quality and asthma and  these Senators primarily talking to the camera because there wasn’t hardly anyone else in there to hear them.  I understand what the aid said that these days our Congress people get briefed in the mornings and evenings and the transcripts are given to them and they are pretty much told how to vote in their briefings.  I also understood when he said that today our Congress people have to work hard with their constituencies taking meetings and working on those things during the day so that they can get re-elected.  I get that getting to that place is not easy and I’m sure it takes a lot of money and support and you’ve got to keep the people that give you those happy.  I get that.

What I don’t get is why we keep letting this broken system survive without all saying, “Enough.”  This is ridiculous.  I’ve heard most of my life that you’ve got to work in the system to change the system and I get that.  You’ve got to know what you’re dealing with and sometimes be able to speak the language so that change can happen.  But we are also called to be in the world and not of it.  We can be in the system and understand the system, but we don’t have to be one of the people sucked into it and trying to make it survive without glance at justice or mercy or ethics or even some good ole character and integrity.

I’m not talking about pointing fingers and blaming this group or that group or this person or that person for all of our problems.  I’m not talking about demonizing some of our fellow Americans even if we may completely disagree with them and think x, y, z about them.  The bottom line is that we are all in this TOGETHER.  We don’t need to waste our time trying to pit people against one another.  We don’t need to waste our time blaming all of our problems big and small on a select party or group or body.  We need to work at solutions, asking the right questions, having a dialogue with one another, figuring out ways that we can live it out with or without the support of the powers that be.

I realize that power is a precarious thing and I know that nothing is ever “that” simple, but I would love to see leaders that lead.  Not just when it’s popular.  Not just the party line.  (Either party.)  Not just what you’re told.  But what you think.  What you have discerned.  What you have wrestled with.

I know that Washington is not just a movie – it’s not just Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The American President, Air Force One, or even the President’s speech in Independence Day.  But we’ve got to do something here.  In this nation that seems more and more divided.  In a place where unemployment is growing and I have more and more students graduating without finding jobs and more and more coming in barely making it through on loans and what little they can make on part-time jobs and not even enough money for raman noodles.

The thing that most moved me in Washington was the Lincoln Memorial.  Reading those words on either side, the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address, and the face of a Congress that even then was working on a budget – was a powerful contrast.  There’s no way we’re more divided now than we were then and yet the words of Lincoln ring out.  “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”

We may not be a nation warring with each other but it is time to bind up the wounds of our people.  When it is clear that many of our children are going hungry.  Many parents are wondering how to provide.  Our churches and organizations that are working to clothe and feed and help educate and give shelter, have more than enough work to last a lifetime and the numbers are doubling and tripling and growing by leaps and bounds.  Do I think all of the responsibility lies in Washington?  No.  Do I think it all depends on a President to shape the course?  No.  But I think it’s a start.  There are unsung heroes all around and I know that God’s people are faithful and that the words of Micah to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God are words that many are living by not by just words but with their lives.

When I think about that nation that I believe in, this crazy idea of America, of freedom, of representation by the people for the people, I don’t think of trillions of dollars spent on defense.  I don’t think about loop holes or pork barrel spending or people after their own wealth or power.  I don’t think of people wasting time talking to the media or to the rich and wealthy in their districts.  I think about the men and women who have fought to make this freedom a reality.  I think of those who live their lives every day with grace and mercy and selfless service.  Not people that are going to cram an ideology or there own culture onto someone else.

I pray for people to step up in conscience and discernment.  I pray for people that will say, “Enough.”  I pray for people who go back to their roots of what this country was founded upon, of what truly makes us a great nation – not a superpower, but a great nation that has character and respect.  I pray for the people hanging in the balance of some of these programs and spending and I pray that we as faith communities step up and see how we can reach out across our communities and lead the way.  I pray that we will open ourselves up to the One who knows all of our needs and who can direct our course, to the One who doesn’t just bless America, but seeks to be in community and relationship with the whole world.  Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Gettysburg Address – Abraham Lincoln

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The Speech on The American President

What would “A Great Nation” look like to you?  What do we as a church do to step up ready to work and to grow and to fight in this battle for justice and mercy?  (Yes, I know I used the word – “fight” – because at this point I feel like we’ve got to dig in and take action no matter what the opposition or what the cop out.)

Such a Different Perspective

I’ve been contemplating and playing over a blog post in my mind for a bit about two of the songs from The Book of Mormon Musical on Broadway.  I know, I know…one day I will have run out of songs to talk about.  The first song is called, “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” or in other words Salt Lake City.  Nikki James sings a beautiful song that is endemic of the entire musical – it’s such a funny, both mocking and serious look at faith and harsh reality and the conflict that is of the somewhat prosperity gospel that is sometimes preached and how that is seen and viewed in the various lenses of most of the world.

It’s an interesting tension.  And for me it really is a tension.  I’ve spent most of the day working going over the budget and expenditures for this year at Wesley and budgeting for the year ahead.  As some of you know, this past year our Annual Conference stopped providing program or building support for our campus ministries, but is still covering our salaries and benefits (which we’re really thankful for).  As scary as that was, people stepped up in huge ways this year.  And we have tried to use that money wisely – from mission trips to educational and missional opportunities on campus to small groups to worship to training up leaders and people going into ministry and everything in between.  It’s exciting to look at.  We couldn’t have taken students to training events without you.  We couldn’t be in ministry with the poor and hungry here in York County, in our state and around the world without you.  So I’m thankful for that.  Hugely.  Especially as we start visioning for a new year.

This afternoon, actually right now, I’m on a conference call with some folks working on getting equipment for the Women’s Spinning Plant, a cooperative of the CDCA (Center for Development in Central America) to be working and functional.  We have worked with these women making concrete blocks, pouring concrete in the floors of the building, and tying rubar.  We’ve protested the company that mislead them.  We look forward to visiting again in August and continuing to work alongside these faithful, resilient, strong and powerful women and men who have withstood and determinedly marched on in the midst of all sorts of adversity.

See that’s the rub.  When I think about what so many around the world are facing in terms of World Refugee Day that we celebrated earlier this week, those in the midst of war zones, atrocities that we can’t imagine, it really puts things in perspective.

We are beyond so blessed here.  And to me blessed isn’t even the right word in some ways because to me that implies that God has blessed us and not someone else just because they were born in a different place to a different family in a different set of circumstances.

It just seems like a lot of time we throw our own “stuff” around and we’re selling people this line that may not be ours to sell and sometimes it even seems cheap and cliched somehow.  One of the last numbers in the musical is the two lovely white guy mormons singing, “I Am Africa.”  It’s very a la “We are the World” or something along those lines.  And I’m not trying to hate on we are the world or Live Aid or the other benefit concerts or celebrity commercials out there.  I’m really not.  That raises money.  And if it raises money and the money gets to the right people who will put their money out there and not just fund overhead and all of the work getting into a country, that’s a great thing.  There are so many good folks like the CDCA, UMCOR, Church World Service, International Justice Mission, Imagine No Malaria that are doing work on the ground with people in-country who speak the language of the people and are being as least patronizing and colonializing as possible.  And these folks aren’t doing the bait and switch and they’re not peddling mink coats.

Don’t have any huge answers today, but I just wanted to name the tension between our problems (check out those tweets #firstworldproblems by the way) and the things that are facing much of the world.

Still a big believer in the tremendous groups working on the ground and who live it out every day.  Still a big believer in hope and love and humanity.  But wrestling with all that these songs evoke in my mind.  Which is what I think the writers did in a beautifully comedic and amazing way.  To take something so funny and sarcastic and ironic and put so much real life and struggle in it – powerful stuff.

When it all boils down – what is the Gospel?  How do we speak that clearly to the person next door, down the street, in the next state over, on the other side of the world?  How do we share our faith in real language in the face of real problems?

Check out the words for Sal Tlay Ka Siti below.

My mother once told me of a place with waterfalls and unicorns flying

Where there was no suffering, no pain, where there was laughter instead of dying
I always thought she’d made it up to comfort me in times of pain
But now I know that place is real, now I know its name

Sal Tlay Ka Siti: not just a story mama told
But a village in Ooh-tah, where the roofs are thatched with gold
If I could let myself believe, I know just where I’d be
Right on the next bus to paradise: Sal Tlay Ka Siti

I can imagine what it must be like…this perfect, happy place
I’ll bet the goat meat there is plentiful, and they have vitamin injections by the case
The warlords there are friendly, they help you cross the street
And there’s a Red Cross on every corner with all the flour you can eat!

Sal Tlay Ka Siti: the most perfect place on Earth
Where flies don’t bite your eyeballs and human life has worth
It isn’t a place of fairy tales, it’s as real as it can be
A land where evil doesn’t exist: Sal Tlay Ka Siti

And I’ll bet the people are open-minded and don’t care who you’ve been
And all I hope is that when I find it, I’m able to fit in
Will I fit in?

Sal Tlay Ka Siti: a land of hope and joy
And if I want to get there, I just have to follow that white boy
You were right, mama, you didn’t lie
The place is real, and I’m gonna fly!

I’m on way…soon life won’t be so shitty
Now salvation has a name: Sal Tlay Ka Siti

Video for Sal Tlay Ka Siti

We have this poster framed on one of our tables in Wesley.  I’ve always liked it because a lot of what we do with CROP Walk or Stop Hunger Now or Imagine No Malaria focuses on not just spreading a message of faith to folks but also feeding the hungry and providing basic needs.  But singing “We Are Africa” in my head over and over because it won’t get out, part of me think this can be patronizing in some ways as well, because the continent of Africa is not the only region that faces these concerns.  Again, things to think about.

The video for “I Am Africa”

Check out these great organizations:

Imagine No Malaria – http://www.imaginenomalaria.org/

Church World Service – http://www.churchworldservice.org/

International Justice Mission – http://www.ijm.org

UMCOR – http://gbgm-umc.org/umcor/

Center for Development in Central America – http://www.jhc-cdca.org/

Behold I Stand at the Door and Knock

So I’m trying to not eat for energy or pick up my favorite coffee drink at The Coffee Shack.  I have done pretty well at The Coffee Shack – only one in a month and that was after the New York trip before I went to a wedding rehearsal so not bad.  Anyway, so I’m terrible at this don’t eat for energy thing and I remembered that in the Wesley kitchen we found some melted chocolate from the New York trip.  I know it’s a pretty low standard if you’re looking at melted chocolate from a road trip.  Anyway, again (I’m digressing a lot here), I got a Coke Zero that someone left here and I found a melted bag of Reese cups (jackpot!) and I’m walking back to my office, when lo and behold I’m walking by the front door and I think I see out of the corner of my eye, a figure at the door.

At first I keep walking down the hall and then I think, wait a sec, I think that really may be someone at the door.  Sure enough it’s a guy.  He’s pointing at our picture that sits on the table in the entryway that says, “I stand at the door and knock” and then he says through the glass – “See, I stand at the door and knock.”  I open the door and of course he’s asking for assistance and if we’re a church.  (I must say that I love our Winthrop Wesley sign and the symbol of the cross and flame that is now big on our wall outside, but no one ever stopped by and asked for assistance before we had that new sign.  I guess they didn’t think we were a church with the words “The Wesley Foundation” on the outside, probably thinking we were a bank or insurance company or philanthropy or something.)

I explained about our college ministry and walked him around the corner pointing out HOPE, Inc. an agency down the street that many of our churches support, I point out the churches in the area, I give him directions to some, tell him about Dorothy Day, etc.  All this time saying that I personally can’t help him, but holding my Coke Zero and bag of Reeses cups in my hand.  As I walk back into the building and I look at the picture and I see what it says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock:  if any hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.”  Hello, conviction as I walk in the door.

By the time I caught up with the guy after grabbing the cash from my wallet to help him with his bus ticket, he’s at the Presbytery building on the corner.  He looks at me and says, “See, I’m trying.  I’m doing the best I can asking these churches to help me.”

It’s tough.  I know that HOPE only helps people every certain amount of days/weeks and they had helped this guy when he was in the hospital last week.  I know that certain folks that he had talked to only give utility bill help or food or they give all their money to HOPE to distribute.  I know that none of us want to be taken advantage of or to enable.  Heck, enable is pretty much a curse word these days.

I know I am one fiesty woman, but also alone in the building so I didn’t want to invite the guy in and I somehow didn’t think handing him spagetti sauce and uncooked pasta from our pasta lunches would actually help anything.  I could have driven him somewhere and I thought about it, but the whole woman alone thing – sometimes I’m okay with that, and sometimes not so much.  So yes, I ended up doing something that I actually don’t usually do and I sometimes even say we shouldn’t do – I just gave the guy some money.

It’s such a hard issue – to give or not to give, enabling or accountability, erring on the side of grace or of caution.  What would you do?  Do you go with your gut?  Do you listen to the Spirit as you discern?

How is our church inviting people in as they stand at the door and knock?  Do we just give them some money or do we actually invite them in and build relationship with them?  What does the world see about a church that says we want to clothe the naked and give homes to the homeless and yet we have nothing to offer?  What does the world see in a church that just gives hands out and not hands up or real relationship?

Questions to wrestle with and ponder.

One Day

Today at lunch, Adrienne and I were sitting talking over the Wesley to do list and everything that needs to happen before the semester ends including our Human Trafficking cultural event, Imagine No Malaria event and the Harlem Mission trip.  We were enjoying lunch and then Matisyahu’s song “One Day” came on the radio.  We both stopped and listened and sat there wondering where we had heard this song.  Finally we remembered that we heard it on the Tom’s One Day without shoes video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BitShRujoeA

It is a really catchy song and something that is saying really great words.  Below is a video that has the words and I’ve also included them below.

Right now, my amazingly wonderful sister-in-law is in labor for my niece.  We’re all really excited.  Josh picked me up at 5:45 this morning for all of us to go over there.  I was honored to be apart of it and I’m looking forward to heading back over there.  When I think about the world that baby KLM (they haven’t told us the names, just the initials) is going to grow up in, or the world where my children will grow up, so many thoughts run through my head.  I would like to think like this song that one day there will be no more war.  One day there will be no more fighting.  One day there will be no more hungry.  One day there will be no more malaria.  One day there will be no more modern day slavery or human trafficking of any kind.  One day…

Outside of the Church Center building across from the UN is a quote from Isaiah on the wall.

Isaiah 2:4 says what is written on this wall, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, netierh shall they learn war any more.”  Micah 4:3 echoes this.

I remember in a meeting long ago, some clergy using Jesus’ words “the poor are always with us” as a reason for us to not work as hard as we could for justice, because they believed the poor were just a natural part of life. (Yep the verse is in Mark 14:7, Matthew 26:11, and John 12:8)  Yes, Jesus said it.  And if you want to take things out of context, I guess you could justify a pompous and self-righteous attitude about it, but Jesus didn’t work to bring about a kingdom that is just to come, but one that is also alive and well right here.  The already and not yet.  Jesus brought release to the captives and healing to the sick.  And part of what we do as disciples of Jesus is work to bring light and love and God’s grace to all that they may see and know that the Lord is good. 

I had dinner with a couple of students last night and they were asking me about some of the things they’ve learned in one of their Human Experience classes about faith.  They asked about doing mission trips and service and if that was what Jesus wanted and if that would make them a better Christian.  We talked for a while about work’s righteousness and how you don’t “earn” your salvation, but that in my mind acts of justice and mercy naturally grow and flow out of a love of God.  We even talked about the lovely Wesley’s personal piety and social holiness.  Yep, there’s something about that thing between us and God – that devotion, quiet time, meditation, getting away and centering on God, prayer, scripture study – that’s important.  But that social holiness aspect is equally as important.  They were saying that people in their classes questioned their faith and if they were hypocrites for believing both evolution and creationism.  You could argue for days on personal belief/piety.  Both personal piety and social holiness are things that the world can clearly see.  They can see if we are at peace and content.  They can see if we’re centered and grounded.  They can see if we’re leaving out what we say.  They can see if we’re offering a coat or a meal or a hug with a string attached or not.  They can see if there’s an ulterior motive or a justification or a rationalization on our part.

To me, what the world is hungry for, is not just people shoving beliefs down their throat but people living it out.  To the people that are going to be hesitant, unbelieving and sometimes obnoxious – that’s their opinion.  Maybe they’ve had some bad experiences with “Christians.”  They can’t tell you how you feel or what you believe and they can’t take your God/Jesus/Holy Spirit from you.  But we can answer honestly and openly with humility and confidence that the God we know and trust and love is One who is calling us forth to new life.  The God we know and trust and love is one who knows that one day there will be no more war, no more tears, no more struggle, no more disease, no more fear, no more….  One day.

May we work for this “One day,” not because we “have to” or we won’t be “good enough” Christians if we don’t, but because we want to and we’re called to and if we believe this Jesus is who he says he is and if we believe that this kingdom of God is happening right here all around us, let’s make it a reality.

What do you hope for one day???

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sl9voSKJmEU

 

One Day by Matisyahu

sometimes I lay
under the moon
and thank God I’m breathing
then I pray
don’t take me soon
cause I am here for a reason
sometimes in my tears I drown
but I never let it get me down
so when negativity surrounds
I know some day it’ll all turn around
because
all my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
for the people to say
that we don’t wanna fight no more
they’ll be no more wars
and our children will play

one day

it’s not about
win or lose cause
we all lose
when they feed on the souls of the innocent
blood drenched pavement
keep on moving though the waters stay raging
in this maze you can lose your way (your way)
it might drive you crazy but don’t let it faze you no way (no way)
sometimes in my tears I drown
but I never let it get me down
so when negativity surrounds
I know some day it’ll all turn around
because
all my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
for the people to say
that we don’t wanna fight no more
they’ll be no more wars
and our children will play

one day

one day this all will change
treat people the same
stop with the violence
down with the hate
one day we’ll all be free
and proud to be
under the same sun
singing songs of freedom like

one day

all my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
for the people to say
that we don’t wanna fight no more
they’ll be no more wars
and our children will play

Truckers Against Trafficking

A huge thanks to Bob Paulson for sharing this video with me.  Bob and some of his colleagues at Triad Ladder of Hope are going to be sharing in a cultural event at Winthrop University in Dina’s Place, the campus theater, on Apirl 18th at 7 pm.  We’re going to be hearing from Bob about human trafficking in our area and what we can do and we’ll also be watching the documentary, “Very Young Girls.”

While on our human trafficking seminar in New York City we watched some of this documentary and it was one of the most haunting and disturbing things I’ve seen.  I don’t know how you could watch it and not feel something.  Human trafficking happens all over the world, but it also happens right here in the United States.  This isn’t some far away problem, but something that we can educate, advocate, and work to stop right here and around the world.

Sometimes, like you see in the video above, it just takes a phone call.  A phone call could save a girl or a boys life.  Call 1.888.373.7888, the Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline, if you think you have encountered a victim of trafficking.

Some questions to ask:

*  What type of work do you do?

*  Are you being paid?

*  Can you leave your job if you want to?

*  Can you come and go as you please?

*  Have you or your family been threatened?

*  What are your working and living conditions like?

*  Where do you sleep and eat?

*  Do you have to ask permission to eat/sleep/go to the bathroom?

*  Are there locks on your doors/windows so you cannot get out?

*  Has your identification or documentation been taken from you?

This cannot continue happening while people sit by and go about our day to day.  Help spread the word.  Make the call if you see signs (evidence of being controlled, evidence of inability to move or leave job, bruises or other signs of physical abuse, fear or depression, not speaking on own behalf, no identification or documentation with them).

This is a justice issue.  This is a faith issue.  This is something that the church needs to step up and take a stand on and actively pursue the things we say we believe like freeing the captives and walking alongside the poor, helpless, and trapped among us.

If you have any questions or would like more information about human trafficking, a good website is www.acf.hhs.gov/trafficking.