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The Power of Fear

Epiphany Sunday

Isaiah 60: 1-6
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

On Monday of this week, a grand jury in Ohio declared that the police officers who shot and killed 12-year old Tamir Rice while he played with a pellet gun in a Cleveland park and then left him unattended on the ground for four minutes before administering comfort or assistance would not be indicted on any charges related to his death. The officers said the boy looked like he was 20. They said they told him to stand down. He was a large black boy in a park and they were afraid. People do stupid and sometimes horrible things when they are afraid.

As a country we’re being told that we should be afraid of a lot of things lately: immigrants, Muslims, crazy men with guns, black men (with or without guns), ISIS, the jobs report, tap water. We’re told that there are forces afoot in this world, embodied in these and many other things, which threaten our way of life. We’re told that if we do not eliminate these threats, bad things will happen. We’re told to hold nothing back, however immoral or inhumane, to keep ourselves and our way of life safe: border controls, internment camps, religious tests, militarized policing, racially skewed drug laws, carpet bombing, suppression of unions, bottled water.

Fear maintains order. Collateral damage is to be expected. When those in power fear that they are losing hold on that power, ramping up the fear of the general populace is a surefire way to secure and maintain power.

Exhibit A: Herod the Great. Read more

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Helpless Before the Throne

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Job 38: 1-7 (34-41)
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

“We will have so much winning. We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with the winning. Believe me, I agree, you’ll never get bored with winning. We never get bored. We are going to turn this country around. We are going to start winning big on trade. Militarily, we’re going to build up our military. We’re going to have such a strong military that nobody, nobody is going to mess with us. We’re not going to have to use it.” -Donald Trump, September 2015

“I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by thee or laid aside by thee. Exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.” – Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition

In last Sunday’s epistle lesson from Hebrews we were reminded that God’s word is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joint from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” If the gospel lessons of the past few weeks have been any indication the power of God’s word to cut deeply into our lives, this week’s gospel conversation between Jesus, James, and John leaves no doubt that the Word made Flesh will not rest until everything that separates us from God has been sliced away with the precision of a surgeon with a scalpel.

Last week this “Good Teacher” cut into our idolatry of possessions. This week it gets even more personal. Placing ourselves in this story we realize that our sinfulness, like that of James and John, is not just caused by external forces like wealth (or Mammon), but by forces dwelling deep within us, like envy, pride, ego, and the illusion of grandeur. Read more

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Dream or Deliverance?

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

2 Samuel 11:1-15
Psalm 14
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of the American Dream. It’s the illusion of a utopian consumerist life that can be achieved when one has a big house in the safety of the suburbs, an SUV or two, money for a Disney vacation, fashionable clothes, a beautiful family (with approximately 2.5 kids and a dog) who attend all the best schools. I was recently informed that in 2015, the American Dream costs $130,000 a year to attain.

If you’re feeling left out, you’re in good company. Seven of eight American households don’t make enough to live this “ideal” life. And yet, that seems to be precisely the point. It’s a dream that is by and large unattainable. Even the folks who have that kind of money will tell you that hitting the mark didn’t give them fulfillment, but only made them hungry for more. It’s a dream that is sustained by politicians and marketeers who help further distort our desires and then use them to their own advantage. It’s a dream that is and has been built on the backs of black and poor Americans by those with power and wealth.* Read more

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Rejecting the God Who Is

Second Sunday after Pentecost

1 Samuel 8:4-20
Mark 3:20-35

Even those sympathetic to the cause of the young Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were a bit shocked by the brazenness of the young organizer. President Johnson, the same president who would later sign the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts into law, asked King to tone down the spectacle a bit—there were, after all, elections to be won and constituencies to satisfy.

As the Civil Rights movement began to gain strength through the tactics of non-violent resistance, the establishment grew increasingly uncomfortable. White pastors across the South, in an attempt to keep the peace, appealed to King to be patient. Those with less sympathy to the cause of Civil Rights were quick to vilify and attack the calling and character of the preacher-King.

The great irony of all this was that it was taking place in the South, in the midst of one of America’s most deeply religious landscapes. In a time and place where you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t say ‘God is our King,’ or ‘Jesus is our Lord,’ the man whose life so clearly sought to resemble that Lord and King was vilified and ultimately silenced. Read more

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Easter People

Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 133
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-31

“Easter people, raise your voices,
sounds of heaven in earth should ring.
Christ has brought us heaven’s choices;
heavenly music, let it ring.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Easter people, let us sing.”

– William James, Easter People, Raise Your Voices, UMH #304

“What is a ‘Easter people’?”

That was the question that a 4-year old child in my congregation asked me on the way out the door on Easter Sunday just a few days ago. We had just sung one of my favorite Easter hymns and the unfamiliar expression in the song caught his attention. Kneeling down beside him I told him that “Easter people” are people who lived their lives as if the story we just told about Jesus being raised from the dead was really true. Then I stood up, rubbed his bright red buzzed head, and told him that we’d have the next few weeks to figure out what it means together. Read more